With a great publisher, a page-turner of a story, and an appealing, actively publishing author, Julene Bair’s memoir The Ogallala Road is red hot. As I noted in my recent review, her book features two compelling foreground narratives: her romance with a man of the prairie and the fate of the sprawling family farm in western Kansas she has recently inherited.
Bair agreed to a virtual sit-down with Draft No. 4 about her writing process and the fate of the Ogallala Aquifer that features prominently in her book.
An impressive feature of The Ogallala Road is the number of narrative threads you weave elegantly through it—and resolve. These include: your childhood; your family and especially your father; your mid-life love affair with an intellectual cowboy; your son and your parenting of him; different types of farming and the tragic misuse of the Ogallala Aquifer to grow corn on the plains; and your love of wilderness, water, and desert. How in the world did you work out all of this while telling such a forward-moving, compelling foreground narrative?
“I don’t want any struggling memoirists out there to think this came easily. I wrote an essay for the current (May/June) issue of Poets & Writers comparing the way I write to the way my father farmed—doggedly and with determination. When a crop didn’t “make,” he plowed it under and started over. I plowed under many drafts before I understood that the central storylines were my romance with the rancher I met when I went home to research the watershed and my struggle to live up to my father’s first commandment, “Hang on to your land!” The strength of those stories drives the book forward and makes it possible for me to share much else that I care about.”