Author Archives: uwpress

The Art & Craft of Print

We are ce80th-logolebrating University Press Week with the theme of “community,” and from April 2016 to April 2017, we are blogging monthly about University of Wisconsin Press history to mark our eightieth year. On top of that, for this Wednesday blog tour of university presses, the theme is “university press staff spotlight.”

Terry Emmrich at the Overture Center galleries

Terry Emmrich at the Overture Center galleries in summer 2016

It is was an obvious choice, then, to shine that spotlight on Terry Emmrich, production manager in the books division of UWP. In addition to his expert knowledge of typesetting, composition, papers, offset printing, and binding (as well as digital files and production), Terry is a fine art printmaker. In that, he joins a large and historic community of Wisconsin artists.

He also has an impeccable production pedigree, hailing from Neenah in the heart of Wisconsin’s “Paper Valley.” He grew up among folks working in the paper industry, and after studying art and printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he was a sales rep for a printing company before joining UWP in 1989.

A linoleum block relief print by Terry Emmrich

A linoleum block relief print by Terry Emmrich

 

Nine of Terry’s linoleum block relief prints were chosen for a dual exhibition in summer 2016 in the galleries of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison’s premier visual and performing arts venue.

As UWP production manager, Terry has also taken an important role in the documentation of Wisconsin and American printmaking. He has been either the manager or assistant production manager when UWP published significant books on printmaking that required the highest production quality.

Managing the production of our titles related to printmaking has been a special treat for me as it has allowed me to apply my professional knowledge to the publication of a subject in which I have had a lifelong interest. In the case of the books on Warrington Colescott’s prints, it also gave me an opportunity to work with an international giant in the field of printmaking and an artist whom I have long admired.

The most notable of the UWP publications on printmaking are these.

1943A Century of American Printmaking, 1880–1980 by James Watrous
In this sumptuously illustrated history, James Watrous captures the vast panorama of American printmaking in the past century. As he traces the roots and evolution of the art, the story becomes one of prints, people, and events—from the printmakers, their artistic conceptions, and works, to the curators, dealers. collectors, critics, printers, workshops, and exhibitions that played crucial supporting roles. The result is both a compelling cultural history and a seminal survey of a major American art form.
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The Print in the Western World: An Introductory History by Linda C. Hults
A history of  500 years of the fine-art print, including detailed treatment of the work of five master printmakers—Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns. More than 700 illustrations, forty-nine of them in color, show the evolution of the relief, intaglio, planographic, and stencil processes through the centuries.

0485Progressive Printmakers: Wisconsin Artists and the Print Renaissance by Warrington Colescott and Arthur O. Hove
Printmaking exploded on the American art scene after World War II, rapidly expanding from New York to the Midwest and beyond. Central to this movement and its development was the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where a group of talented young artists was making prints and developing a print curriculum. Progressive Printmakers documents, in words and stunning pictures, the breakthrough aesthetics and technical innovations that made the Madison printmakers a force in the art world.

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The Prints of Warrington Colescott: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1948–2008 by Mary Weaver Chapin
A satirist in the tradition of William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, and George Grosz, Warrington Colescott interprets contemporary and historical events, from the personal to the public, the local to the international. He is noted for his exceptional command of complex printmaking techniques and for his innovative approach to intaglio printing. This book is the first fully illustrated catalogue of Colescott’s extensive and varied graphic career and accompanied a major retrospective exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Colescott, also a UWP author as the co-writer of Progressive Printmakers, is still making art today at age 95.

To read more 80th Anniversary posts about publishing history at the University of Wisconsin Press, click here.

To read more “staff spotlights” from other university presses, visit here. 

University Press Week 2016! Tuesday blog tour: Booksellers We Love

Indie Bound!  Tuesday’s blog tour highlights the wonderful booksellers that partner with university presses to bring our books to the reading public.

University of Texas Press: Q&A with their sales manager about visiting indie bookstores along the West Coast  this fall.
University of Chicago Press :  a day in the life of sales rep Mical Moser.
Cornell University Press spotlights Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca’s cooperatively owned community bookstore.
University Press of Colorado looks back on the past year’s author events at their two local indies, Tattered Cover and Boulder Bookstore.
NYU Press features a re-cap of the Brooklyn Book Festival.
McGill Queens University Press offers an appreciation of Canada’s independent bookstores.
University Press of Kentucky features fun, revealing Q&As with indie booksellers across the state.
University Press of Kansas showcases The Raven Bookstore and KU Bookstore, two local shops that carry and promote their titles.

And don’t miss a post from one of the U.S.’s best indie bookstores, the Seminary Co-op in Chicago, where they’ll highlight what’s on their front table right now.

University Press Week 2016! Monday Blog Tour: The People in Our Neighborhood

One of the highlights of University Press Week is the blog tour, in which presses and bookstores celebrate the work of university presses with fascinating and diverse posts, with a different theme each day. Today’s theme is “The People in Our Neighborhood.” Begin today at Northwestern University Press. Rutgers University celebrated their 250th anniversary, and Rutgers University Press played a large role in the festivities—replete with fun photos. Check out Fordham University Press for another interesting post. The University of Toronto Press publishing blog features their history editor, who recounts her experiences running lectures at a nearby Jewish Community Centre in Toronto on Why History Matters Today, which showcases a string of their higher education authors. Their sister blog, University of Toronto Press Journals, spotlights one of their journal editors and the work they are doing in their own communities related to the journal. Seminary Co-op Bookstores shares a curated book list of favorite University Press titles from Haun Saussy, faculty member at the University of Chicago faculty and an author with both Columbia University Press and Fordham University Press. Athabasca University Press features members of their editorial committee. Be sure to return here tomorrow to continue the tour!

New books for November 2016

We are pleased to announce three new books arriving in November.

Hu-DeHart-Yaqui-Resistance-and-Survival-cPublication Date: November 1
YAQUI RESISTANCE AND SURVIVAL
The Struggle for Land and Autonomy, 1821-1910
Revised Edition
Evelyn Hu-DeHart

A landmark history of the Yaqui people of northern Mexico

Hu-DeHart-Evelyn-2016-c

Evelyn Hu-DeHart

“Still stands as the most comprehensive and rigorously researched history of the Yaqui in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hu-DeHart reminds us that in spite of the destruction wrought by the Spanish empire, the Mexican Revolution, and modernization on both sides of the border, the Yaquis resisted and survived.”
—Elliott Young, Lewis & Clark College

“Some works of history are timeless. Yaqui Resistance and Survival is such a book, reminding us never to forget just how brutal and vicious the history of colonialism has been. Here is the history of the Yaqui Indians, who resided in what became the northern Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. From the eighteenth century to the twentieth, they faced missionaries seeking souls, miners demanding disposable labor, and entrepreneurs who wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. The Yaqui fought back to keep their lands, their culture, and ways of life.”—Ramón A. Gutiérrez, University of Chicago

Bouldrey-Inspired-Journeys-cPublication Date: November 22
INSPIRED JOURNEYS
Travel Writers in Search of the Muse
Edited by Brian Bouldrey

Bouldrey-Brian-2016-c

Brian Bouldrey

“The tremendously satisfying and uplifting sense of these essays is the ongoing nature of human pilgrimage, whether to the center of the self or the ends of the earth. After reading this book, I want to go on a journey myself! Highly recommended.”—Antonya Nelson, author of Bound

“Bouldrey has assembled a stellar collection of writers—  true storytellers all—who describe in the most human of terms their varied pilgrimages around the world in search of their elusive muses.”—Booklist

Townend-The-Road-to-Home-Rule-cPublication Date: November 22
THE ROAD TO HOME RULE
Anti-imperialism and the Irish National Movement
Paul A. Townend

Townend-Paul-2016-c

Paul Townend

“A bold and original interpretation in which empire emerges as the essential context—rather than a mere sideshow or backdrop—for the rise of Irish nationalism. To find the origins of Home Rule, we will now need to look not simply at the internal politics of the United Kingdom but at Irish responses to events in India, Egypt, Sudan, and South Africa.”—Kevin Kenny, Boston College

Following the Ghost of Thomas Hardy

Award-winning writer Floyd Skloot recounts the journey to England that inspired him to write his new novel The Phantom of Thomas Hardy, published by the University of Wisconsin Press this week. 

My wife Beverly and I didn’t travel to England in the spring of 2012 so that I could research a novel about Thomas Hardy. The idea that I would write a book-length work about Hardy never occurred to me, until I began to write a book-length work about Hardy nine months after we returned from our trip.

***

It had been hard to decide what to cram into our two weeks in England. We’d be there from May 22 through June 5. Beverly, who’d lived in the UK for four years in the early 1980s, wanted to see landscapes, gardens, and ancient sites. I wanted to pay homage to a few writers whose work and lives had mattered to me for the nearly fifty years I’d been writing. And we wanted to walk as much as possible, to get off the usual tourist track, explore. So after a couple of days in London we rented a car and confined our travels to southern England this time, vowing to return another time and head north.

Walks in the Cotswolds, on Bodmin Moor, and around Cornwall and Carmarthen Bay had all made the itinerary. Also, we planned to visit Hidcote Manor Gardens, the Welsh National Botanic Gardens and Dinefwr Castle, and Lanhydrock Garden in Cornwall. But Beverly sacrificed visits to the gardens of Barnsley House, the grounds of Blenheim Palace, and the Bronze Age Rollright stones. And I chose Dylan Thomas’ home at Laugharne and Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, sacrificing visits to the places where T.S. Eliot set his Four Quartets, the homes of the Dymock poets, and the Hay-on-Wye bookstores.

For me, finally seeing Hardy territory was the centerpiece. As a student at Franklin & Marshall College in the late 1960s, I’d written my undergraduate honors thesis on Hardy’s novels, brought to them by my mentor/employer/substitute father, Professor Robert Russell, who had died at age eighty-six just a few months before we began planning our trip. It felt important to me that I visit Hardy territory in the wake of  Russell’s death. Since I’d published an essay about Hardy in 2007, I didn’t anticipate writing about him again. In fact, I felt certain that visiting his places would mark the end of my long engagement with him.

We stayed at a B&B in Dorchester for two nights, which gave us parts of three days—June 3, 4, and 5—to look around, tour Hardy’s birthplace and the home called Max Gate that he built and lived in for the final forty-three years of his life, see his grave at Stinsford Churchyard, and walk some of the places he wrote about such as the Weymouth shoreline or Lulworth Cove.

Thorncombe Woods.1

Thorncombe Woods Photo Credit: Beverly Hallberg

Nothing unusual happened during our time in Dorset. We met no one connected with Hardy, spoke to no one about Hardy. It was moving to me to be there, and it did seem like a time of closure. Only once, in downtown Dorchester at the start of our Hardy wanderings, did I feel even the slightest sense of the writer’s presence, accompanied by a passing thought that it would have been sweet to somehow call Dr. Russell from where I stood at #10 South Street, beside the heavy wooden door of a Barclays Bank that bore a round blue plaque saying “This house is reputed to have been lived in by the MAYOR of CASTERBRIDGE in THOMAS HARDY’S story of that name written in 1885.”

***

In June and July, back home in Portland, I wrote an essay about our trip, “To Land’s End and Back: A 1,512-Mile Drive Around Southern England.” That essay included a mere three paragraphs about what we saw during our time in Dorset. It completed my book Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), and was – I believed – all I had to say about going to Hardy country.

ready to write Hardy.2

Photo Credit: Beverly Hallberg

But my thoughts kept returning to Dorset, to Hardy, and to Dr. Russell. I spoke about this with my daughter Rebecca, who reminded me to write notes about these thoughts and let them go wherever they might take me. She was surprised to learn that I no longer had a copy of my college thesis and encouraged me to see if I could track one down at Franklin & Marshall. In July I found myself drawn to rereading Hardy’s short second novel, Under the Greenwood Tree, set in and around the author’s childhood home where we’d spent a couple of hours. Then I reread Claire Tomalin’s biography, Thomas Hardy, which I’d reviewed for the Boston Globe in 2007. My notebook was filling. By August I felt pretty sure that I did, after all, need to write something much longer than the three paragraphs in my earlier essay, but I wasn’t sure what form that writing would take. Then I reread Michael Millgate’s Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited (2004) and Ralph Pite’s Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life (2006), both of which I’d first read as soon as they were published. I found and read several more biographies. My sense of Hardy as a person, a character, was deepening in ways I’d never considered before.

And I kept returning to the memory of when I was standing in front of the Barclay Bank building in Dorchester vaguely sensing Hardy’s presence and wishing I could call Dr. Russell. In March 2013, in a fresh notebook, I wrote, “Beverly and I walked up South Street in Dorchester, following a tourist map past Trespass Outdoor Clothing, Carphone Warehouse, Top Drawer Cards & Gifts, a shuttered O2 Store.”

And that was the beginning of the novel! While standing in front of that Barclays Bank building, pondering the enigma of a fictional character living in a factual building, my character Floyd is approached by the ghost of Hardy himself. Read more about the novel here.

Floyd Skloot is an award-winning writer of fiction, essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction. His twenty books include Revertigo: An Off-Kilter Memoir and The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer’s Life. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Why write a novel instead of a memoir?

Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of A Thin Bright Line, explains why a novel is the best way to honor the true story of her aunt and namesake, providing a glimpse of the woman behind her accomplishments. 

The line between fiction and memoir has been blurred in recent years, putting many memoirists on the defense about the role of imagination in their books. How much of a story should be supported by documentation? How much creativity is fair game in memoir storytelling? Is it okay to shift timeframes or make up dialogue, and still call a book “nonfiction”?

I could have called my new novel, A Thin Bright Line, a memoir. The story, based on ten years in the life of my aunt and namesake, Lucybelle Bledsoe, is steeped in fact and eight years of research.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, on September 29, 1966, Lucybelle Bledsoe, my dad’s sister and my namesake, died in an apartment fire. I was 9 years old.

As I grew up, I could only glean a few intriguing tidbits about my namesake. I knew that, like so many other women of her generation, she used the cover of WWII to shoot off the Arkansas farm and run off to New York. I knew she wanted to go to law school, and when my grandfather forbid it, she studied for and passed the bar exam anyway, without the benefit of law school. My mother told me that she was extremely independent, that even in the 50s and 60s, Lucybelle didn’t allow men to hold doors open for her.

One day, about 8 years ago, a friend suggested I Google my aunt. I didn’t expect to find anything. After all, Lucybelle was just a farm girl who died in 1966.

Lucybelle Bledsoe

Lucybelle Bledsoe

What I discovered astonished me. Lucybelle Bledsoe was a key player in a top secret, though recently declassified, Cold War project involving studying the properties of ice. The fear at the time was that the Russians would attack via the Arctic, and the government wanted to be ready. She became fluent in Russian as part of her work and had top security clearance.

Lucybelle Bledsoe was also a queer woman who carried on, despite the McCarthy Era fears about hiring gay people in highly classified positions. The work she and the Army Corps of Engineer scientists did from 1956 to 1966 included pulling the first ever complete ice cores from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. These cores are still being studied today and are considered the beginning of climate change research.

So why not write this story as a biography? Or a memoir of my time with my aunt?

It’s a very good question. I could have used the biography form to write about the convergence of the Cold War, the history of climate change research, and LGBT history. And certainly my novel embraces all these topics.

But what gripped me most about Lucybelle’s story was her courage, the way she made her way to Greenwich Village at the tender age of 20 in 1944, how she found women lovers, and how she managed a queer life in spite of the times, in spite of McCarthy, and while holding a highly classified government job. I am most interested in her heart, who she loved, how she found her strength and bravery.

14716171_10209163985610764_6157701390193291084_nSo I interviewed everyone who knew her. I found the name of her partner, the woman who mourned her death. I sent for her death certificate and even interviewed some firemen and neighbors who’d been on the scene of the fire that killed her. I interviewed her coworkers and childhood friends. I traveled to Arkansas, Chicago, New York, and New Hampshire and haunted all the places she’d lived.

A Thin Bright Line is based on a wealth of fact. But I imagined how she felt in between the facts. I imagined the words she spoke in her most intimate moments. I do believe that imagination, in concert with research, can reach a deeper truth.  

Bledsoe-Lucy-2016-cLucy Jane Bledsoe is an award-winning science writer and novelist for adults and children. Her many books include The Ice Cave: A Woman’s Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic, The Big Bang Symphony: A Novel of Antarctica, This Wild Silence, and Working Parts. A native of Portland, Oregon, she lives in Berkeley, California.

 

Livia Appel, the University of Wisconsin Press’s first editor

80th-logoLivia Appel was appointed the first managing editor (essentially, the first director) of the University of Wisconsin Press in 1937. University Press Committee records from the time indicate that she was hired because she thoroughly understood academic publishing operations and could be employed for much less pay than a man.

Livia Appel. Photo by Arthur M. Vinje, collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, #43412

Livia Appel. Photo by Arthur M. Vinje, collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, #43412

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1893, Appel became a school teacher and then a research and editorial assistant at the Minnesota Historical Society. Her work as an assistant was apparently impressive enough that she was credited as coauthor of a MHS book: Minnesota in the War with Germany by Franklin F. Holbrook and Livia Appel.

Very little about Appel’s work at UWP has been researched, but her tenure included the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II. We know that the first book published at the Press was Reactions of Hydrogen with Organic Compounds over Copper-Chromium Oxide and Nickel Catalysts by Homer Adkins. Appel also authored a small book herself—Bibliographical Citation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities: A Handbook of Style for Authors, Editors, and Students, published by UWP in 1940.

A few of the more notable books published between Appel’s arrival in 1937 and departure in 1948 include:

  • The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner Edited by Everett E. Edwards (1938)
    A Regional Approach to the Conservation of Natural Resources
    by V. C. Finch and J. R. Whitaker (1938)
    The Leguminous Plants of Wisconsin by Norman C. Fassett (1939)
    The Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Relations by George T. Hunt (1940)
    The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781 by Merrill Jensen (1940)
    Lincoln and the Radicals by T. Harry Williams (1941)
    De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius Edited by William Ellery Leonard and Stanley Barney Smith (1942)
    Japan: A Physical, Cultural, and Regional Geography by Glenn T. Trewartha (1945)
    The Wisconsin Prisoner: Studies in Crimogenesis by John L. Gillin (1946)
    Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth by Norman O. Brown (1947)

What we do know about Appel as an editor and as a person comes mainly from her later work elsewhere. In 1948, she was hired by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin as editor for their publications. Distinguished historian Francis Paul Prucha, whose work Appel edited for SHSW, wrote a lengthy tribute to her in the summer 1996 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History on the occasion of the society’s sesquicentennial.

In Prucha’s article titled, “Livia Appel and the Art of Copywriting: A Personal Memoir,” he noted, “In her years at the [University of Wisconsin] Press, she gained a reputation as a perfectionist.” Prucha describes in detail how Appel worked painstakingly and authoritatively with him to transform his dissertation into a successful book. “My encounter with Livia Appel at the beginning of my career as a historian was a never to be forgotten experience. . . . It is remarkable how far I have been carried by the principles of good writing and the practical skills she taught me.” He mentions that he discovered after his book was published that Appel was not only the editor, but the book designer, for SHSW’s publications.

Prucha also briefly describes meeting Appel: ” I met Livia Appel personally only once, at the end of June 1956, when I was able to spend a short time in Wisconsin. My memory of that meeting after so many years is now dim. I do not remember just what my expectations had been in regard to Appel’s personality and appearance—after all, our long correspondence had been very professional and all business. What I found was a woman less precise in dress and demeanor, more  informal and friendly, than I would have imagined. The one clear picture that I have retained is that she perpetually had a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. But I also remember that she made me feel that we were kindred souls in discussing at length the problems we had solved together in revising my dissertation.”

In 1956, Prucha reports, Appel moved to New York City, where she apparently did freelance editing until 1962. She died in New York in January 1973.

The Politics of the Stalinist Past in Today’s Russia

Russian author Alexander Vatlin gives insight into his book Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police, published this week by the University of Wisconsin Press. With Seth Bernstein providing the translation, Vatlin expands upon Stalin’s legacy today and the issues that still divide the Russian people.

I am delighted that my study of Stalin’s terror at the local level has been translated into English. In this blog, I’d like to frame the book in the context in which I wrote it— present-day Russia. When I wrote the original Russian-language book [published in 2004], the primary point of dispute among Russians stemmed from their opinions about Stalin’s regime. Indeed, this divide remains today. Academic historians have written hundreds or thousands of books with well-researched arguments about Stalinism. Some have even published documents from formerly secret archives, revealing the inner workings of the party-state. Yet among many ordinary people, these works have had little impact. As a colleague commented, a Russian’s view about Stalinism are a question of faith, not knowledge.

Stalin’s era remains the period in Russian history that attracts the most attention from researchers. It is an epoch that allows, even encourages, contradictory interpretations. Take the example of Stalinist forced collectivization: one historian might condemn the campaign as a crime against the peasantry, another lauds it as one of the regime’s great achievements. It suffices to cite a recent survey of Russians on the place of Stalin in history. Over the last several years, approximately 40 percent have claimed that Stalin would be the right leader for Russia today. Among people older than sixty, this figure is nearly 70 percent.

There are three main questions that divide the Russian public’s interpretations of Stalinism:

  1. Did the violence of Stalinism reflect the broader trends of European history in the twentieth century (what historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “age of extremes”)? Or was it a path peculiar to Russia (borrowing from the German concept of the sonderweg in their country’s history), a product of the country’s underdevelopment?
  2. Was Stalin’s regime—despite all its brutality—the only way that Russia could have survived the crises of the twentieth century? In other words, could the country have industrialized so rapidly without the Gulag?
  3. The final question, especially relevant for today: did Stalinism represent a dark age—a historical regression that forced the country to restart its development anew after the dictator’s death? Or was it the opposite—did Stalin drag the USSR into modernity, and now we can forget about the troubles of the past?

In current debates, few (other than the most politicized radicals in the Russian Communist Party) continue to defend the massive state violence of 1937-38, better known as the Great Terror. However, there is still reason to be concerned about the terror’s place in society. It is not that the public celebrates the elimination of so-called enemies of the people, but that Stalinist repression has been effectively forgotten. Scholarship on 1937-38 has almost no popular resonance today. This fact is most striking, because the history of the Great Terror was enormously important during Gorbachev’s perestroika of the late 1980s. Then, new revelations about Stalinist repression drove a moral reckoning in the country and were partially responsible for political reforms. In 1989, 39 percent of those surveyed in said that Stalinist repression was one of the most significant episodes for the USSR/Russia in the twentieth century. By the time my book was published in 2004, that number fell to just 10 percent. When I tried to present my book at a library in Kuntsevo municipal district in Moscow—where the events of my work took place—I was turned away. Administrators from the library said, “We can’t raise our children on that kind of history.”

Russians, the young above all, have turned away from the dark pages of their country’s past. This lack of historical perspective is dangerous—a formula for collective amnesia and apathy. Only a quarter of the locations are known where mass shootings occurred during the Great Terror. The only people currently looking for the mass graves are volunteers who receive no support from the state. The relatives of the repressed in many cases still do not know where their parents and grandparents are buried.

In short, readers of the English-language translation of my book should be aware that Russian historical understandings differ significantly from those in the West. Russians like to quote the poet Fedor Tyutchev’s famous lines:

Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness,
She stands alone, unique,
In Russia, one can only believe.

Every country has traditions that govern acceptable attitudes toward domestic and international tensions. This behavior formed over hundreds of years, and the resulting national traits are not always laudable. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore them.

There are several aspects of Stalinist rule that are important for a non-Russian reader to understand. Stalin constructed his dictatorship by working within the Russian tradition of autocratic rule. He also exploited the passivity of ordinary people, who had grown weary of struggling after decades of revolutionary upheaval. The threat of external aggression contributed to Stalin’s ability to form an authoritarian regime. A huge number of ordinary Russians were isolated in the small world of their villages, and many peasants cared little about what was happening in Moscow. These Russians had limited experience with representative democracy. Even today, people’s deference to central leaders is not based on a social contract, but upon fear of the powerful and anxieties about instability.

For all these reasons, both the victims and the executors of the Great Terror could not understand its causes nor comprehend its scale. Perpetrators’ lack of understanding allowed them to deny their responsibility—a phenomenon readers can see among the officers of the Kuntsevo NKVD in my book Agents of Terror. NKVD workers often claimed that they had only fulfilled quotas, that they had completed the number of arrests that leaders had demanded. If agents had questioned the purpose of the terror, let alone objected to it, they could have soon found themselves on the other side of the interrogation table.

This argument was a convenient way for NKVD officers to absolve themselves of guilt. All the main figures in Agents of Terror made similar claims when they were called to account at the end of 1938. As a scholar who works primarily on German history, I could not help but think of a phrase that millions of Germans recited during Hitler’s reign: Der Führer denkt für uns. The Führer thinks for us.

I do not want to suggest that today’s Russians should come to a final understanding about the meaning of Stalin’s regime in the country’s history. It will take perhaps another two or three generations to reach a popular consensus about the era. More important is that individuals work through the past—a process that cannot occur without moral assessments. Asking a personal question—how would I have acted in the place of a victim or an executioner, in the place of a hero or a traitor?—does not permit one to hide behind the straw men of the great villains in history. Strange as it sounds, the history of the Great Terror can have a positive impact on contemporary Russia. It should force every one of us to reflect, so that a tragedy like 1937-38 will not occur again.

 

Alexander Vatlin is a professor of history at Moscow State University. The author of many works in Russian, he is the editor of Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution: Bolshevik Self Portraits.

 

 

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Seth Bernstein is an assistant professor of history at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

 

 

 

Mystery writer interviews the FBI

Patricia Skalka, author of Death in Cold Water, the third installment of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries, speaks about her experience writing a mystery novel, interviewing the FBI, and why Cubiak is so relatable. 

Death in Cold Water is the third book of your Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. When you started writing, did you envision that you’d do a series? Not at all. In fact, the prospect of writing a series seemed quite overwhelming and far beyond the scope of anything I could imagine. I started Death Stalks Door County, the first book, with the intention that it would be a stand-alone mystery. One and done, as they say. But as the book developed, additional story lines materialized. And by the time I had completed a solid draft, I felt so close to my characters that I didn’t want to walk away from them. I saw them as real people whose lives extended into the future. By then it seemed only natural to use the first book as a stepping stone into a series.

Without revealing any secrets, what can you tell us about Death in Cold WaterThere are two story lines in the book. The first involves the disappearance of a prominent Door County philanthropist who has strong ties to the Green Bay Packers. His presumed kidnapping leads to FBI agents joining the story. The second plot revolves around human bones that wash up on a beach north of Baileys Harbor. My lead character, Sheriff Dave Cubiak, uncovers the story behind them.

Is there a common motif in your books? In each of the three books I’ve written and in the fourth that’s in progress, the crime that occurs in present time is linked to past events. By this, I mean stories that span several decades and involve the kind of old secrets and misdeeds that become lost in the mist of memory and slowly ferment beneath the surface of daily life. I like to present my protagonist with complex puzzles that involve several potential and often conflicting motives and a panoply of suspects. In solving crimes, he must shift through layers of often conflicting clues and circumstances and delve deep into people’s lives before he arrives at the truth.

One of two range lights at Baileys Harbor active from 1869 to 1969. The lanterns were originally fueled by lard or whale oil, later by kerosene and acetylene gas until converted to electricity.

One of two range lights at Baileys Harbor active from 1869 to 1969. The lanterns were originally fueled by lard or whale oil, later by kerosene and acetylene gas until converted to electricity.

Is Dave Cubiak, your protagonist, based on a real person? Dave Cubiak is a figment of my imagination drawn from bits and pieces of many of the people whose paths have crossed mine over the years. His aspirations might be drawn from one individual; his story of loss from another; his physical appearance based on yet someone else. Mostly he was an idea that slowly assumed a personality and physical presence as the concept for the first book evolved. To solve the mystery and carry the reader along as clues were discovered, I needed the fresh eyes and objectivity that only an outsider could bring. When readers met Cubiak in my first mystery, Death Stalks Door County, he was a former Chicago homicide detective turned park ranger. He’s a reluctant protagonist who slowly grows into his role of hero.

I created Cubiak as the kind of sheriff I would want to arrive on the scene if I were ever the victim of a crime or in need of help. At a recent event, one reader said he thinks of Cubiak as “a man who does the right thing.”  I think that really sums up Dave Cubiak.

Where do you find your inspiration for the books you write? Mysteries generally evolve from one of three elements: setting, characters, or plot. Death in Cold Water grew directly from the plot. I knew that I wanted to write a story about a kidnapping. The next step was deciding on the victim, the motive behind the crime, and the culprits, and then weaving the three together in a coherent story.

Death at Gills Rock, the second volume in the series, emerged from the characters and my desire to write a book involving veterans from World War II. I’d read newspaper articles and seen many reports on the vanishing population of veterans and knew I had to do something soon. One day, I was talking to one of my Door County neighbors about the idea and she mentioned that the Coast Guard contingent from Sturgeon Bay had served in the Aleutian Islands during the war. That was all I needed to get started.

A Door County sunrise.

A Door County sunrise.

The idea for Death Stalks Door County, the first book, grew directly from the setting. After spending a perfect afternoon on the beach, I found myself in the same spot on an inky black night. The contrast between day and night made me think of the disparity between light and dark, and good and evil, which led to imagining a story in which sinister forces were at work beneath a veneer of perfection. From this, I came up with the plot line and characters for my first mystery.

How much, if any, research do you do for your mysteries? Whenever I come up against something about which I know little or nothing, I do research. I don’t let a lack of knowledge about a subject stand in my way of writing about it. But I don’t fabricate facts either. Writing only what you know is fine if you’re already someone with boundless knowledge! I believe in writing about that which I am willing to learn, and I always encourage aspiring writers not to be inhibited by a lack of knowledge about a given subject as long as they are willing to do the research.

Death in Cold Water involves the FBI, and prior to writing the book all I knew about the agency was what I picked up from news articles and TV shows. I had much to learn about the FBI’s involvement in kidnapping cases and started by gathering as much information as I could from the bureau’s website and from various books and magazine articles. Once I had a sense of the story, I went through the plot and tried to imagine where and how the FBI would figure in. With this general overview pretty well laid out, I was ready to talk with real-life agents.

What was it like interviewing the FBI? Overall, I’d say it was rather intimidating. Where to start? The bureau has offices in more than fifty major cities across the county, and since my story was set in Wisconsin, I assumed I should approach the Milwaukee office first. I sent an email to the Public Information Office there, explaining who I was and what I was doing and was told that all media inquiries have to go through Washington. That gave me pause. But after a few days of procrastinating, I sent essentially the same email to the PIO at headquarters. This time, I was asked to submit the type of questions I wanted answered.

That gave me further pause. I had dozens of specific questions, but I finally came up with five or six general queries and submitted the list. Within days, I had an appointment with two agents in the Chicago office.

The author reflected in the window of her cottage.

The author reflected in the window of her cottage.

Here were the guidelines: I could ask anything I wanted but wasn’t allowed to bring in any electronic devices. This meant no cell phones, recorders, or cameras. I entered the grounds through a small gate house where I was assigned a locker for my cell phone, which I’d forgotten to leave in the car. Once I was cleared, I walked the fifty or so feet to the main building carrying only my purse, a notepad, and a pen.

I met with two agents for more than two hours, taking notes by hand all the time we talked. They were extremely helpful, and both really liked the ending I wrote!  I wasn’t allowed to mention either of the agents by name in the acknowledgements.

The books in your series move through time. Why is that? Cubiak is in a very bad place when we first meet him. He is burdened with grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter and overwhelmed with guilt because they died in an accident he feels he could have prevented. He is morose and withdrawn. Following in the footsteps of his alcoholic father, he also uses vodka to numb his feelings. He is a man apart and not very likable. I didn’t want to leave him there, and the only realistic way I could see to help him find some peace was to move him—and the stories—through time.

I envision the series covering a period of twenty years or so. Cubiak as well as the other central characters will grow older, as we do. Life circumstances will keep changing and they’ll face new issues and concerns. I thought this would be both an interesting and challenging way to structure the books.

Is there an overall arc to the series? Each book follows its own story arc but the series has an overarching story line which put simply is Cubiak’s personal journey of redemption. As I said earlier, he begins the series as a man tormented by grief and guilt, and in each book he learns a little more about how to live with the loss he has endured. His pain evolves over time but it will never really go away, and he has to grapple with the challenge of reconciling that which he cannot change. My goal is to help Cubiak reach a point where he can fully embrace both loss and life, no small challenge for anyone.

How do readers relate to Cubiak’s journey? I have been surprised and touched by how my readers relate to Cubiak. Women seem to want to take care of him; men say they like him because he’s “real.” People affected by loss are especially sympathetic to his plight. Many have told me that they appreciate the depth and ongoing nature of Cubiak’s struggle. They feel that my books speak to the truth of grief which is too often treated superficially. One reader experienced in helping others cope with post-traumatic stress said he thought Cubiak’s story was a story of hope for people dealing with traumatic loss.

Dave Cubiak, who started out rather unlikable, has developed something of a fan club. Readers ask about him; they express concern for his emotional well-being; they send emails asking when the next Dave Cubiak story will be out. For an author, there can be no greater compliment.

Watch Patricia Skalka in an interview by Chicago Public Television:

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door County and Death at Gills Rock, the first two volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. A former writer for Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin.

 

New books for October 2016

We are pleased to announce five new books arriving in October.

Publication date: October 11
DEATH IN COLD WATER
Patricia Skalka

The third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series

“Patricia Skalka has pulled off the near impossible—a tale of grisly murder filled with moments of breathtaking beauty. Sheriff Dave Cubiak is the kind of decent protagonist too seldom seen in modern mystery novels, a hero well worth rooting for. And the icing on the cake is the stunning backdrop of Door County, Wisconsin. Another fine novel in a series that is sure to satisfy even the most demanding reader.”—William Kent Krueger, author of Windigo Island

“Skalka has created magic with this excellent police procedural. She confronts Sheriff Dave Cubiak with a kidnapping, snakes, and even a bag of nearly drowned kittens, deftly brought together in crisp, evocative prose. A great read!”—Libby Fischer Hellman, author of Jump Cut

Publication date: October 11
AGENTS OF TERROR
Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police
Alexander Vatlin
Edited, translated, and with an introduction by Seth Bernstein

“Although the literature on the Great Terror has improved markedly over the past twenty-five years, only a handful of case studies consider how the purges took place at the grassroots level. Thankfully, Alexander Vatlin’s pathbreaking work has now become available to English-speakingВатлин1 audiences. One can only hope that Agents of Terror will inspire more research on the purge’s perpetrators and victims as well as on the broader sociology of this brutal period.”—David Brandenberger, author of Propaganda State in Crisis

“Groundbreaking. In the first detailed description of Stalin’s mass terror, Vatlin unfolds the day-to-day working of the Soviet political police who carried out orders to select, arrest, interrogate, and often murder their fellow citizens. An absorbing, heartrending account.”—David Shearer, author of Policing Stalin’s Socialism

Publication date: October 18
A THIN BRIGHT LINE
Lucy Jane Bledsoe

“Merges fact and fiction to create a historically accurate picture of the struggles faced by LGBT people in the 1950s and ’60s; the closeting that was required for professional advancement; and the ways the Cold War pitted pure science against research to benefit the defense industry. A stirring and deeply felt story.”Kirkus Reviews

“This is gripping historical fiction about queer life at the height of the Cold War and the civil Bledsoe-Lucy-2016-crights movement, and its grounding in fact really makes it sing. Like the scientists whose papers she edits, Lucybelle Bledsoe is passionate about the truth. Whether it’s the climate history of the planet as illuminated by cores of polar ice or the pursuit of an authentic emotional life in the miasma of McCarthyism, she operates with piercing honesty.”—Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home

Publication date: October 27
THE PHANTOM OF THOMAS HARDY
Floyd Skloot

“Only the inventive Floyd Skloot could come up with—and gorgeously pull off—an experiment like The Phantom of Thomas Hardy. With the intensity of a fevered dream, he seeks his own self-integration after brain trauma while digging around, assembling, and imagining the history of the elusive Hardy. Blending memoir, reportage, literary analysis, and historical fiction (who does that?) Skloot dazzles with the depth of his research, and enchants with his signature vivid, precise, and thoroughly delicious prose.”—Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Concussion

“This strikingly original book crosses the boundaries of genre in daring ways, as we observe a fictional self in pursuit of a phantom, another self, the soul of a great author. This is a work of memoir, fantasy, literary biography, spiritual questing—and more. As ever, Skloot draws on deep reserves of intellectual and emotional energy. A remarkable achievement.”—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

Callary-Place-Names-of-Wisconsin-cPublication date: October 31
PLACE NAMES OF WISCONSIN
Edward Callary

“Up-to-date and fully documented, this alphabetical guide to more than two thousand names of Wisconsin’s counties, towns, cities, and villages will be the definitive resource on Wisconsin place names for years to come. Readers—whether locals, travelers, or scholars—will enjoy learning about the unique history of the state as reflected in its place names.”—Luanne von Schneidemesser, senior editor, Dictionary of American Regional English

“The introduction is laced with apt examples of naming patterns and sources. It explains pseudo-Indian names and corrects many fanciful but false popular accounts of name origins. And, Callary includes a helpful pronunciation guide for anyone confronted with Mazomanie, Menomonie, and Muscoda for the first time.”—James P. Leary, editor of Wisconsin Folklore