Monthly Archives: October 2018

Interview with Author Jim Landwehr

I met Jim Landwehr while I was struggling through the first draft of Paddle for a Purpose, unsure if it would ever tell the story of our experience in the engaging way I hoped. Jim, also a student at AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, was celebrating the release of his first book, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir. His topic was right up my alley – I thoroughly enjoyed his gentle story-telling voice and the intertwining of humor, insight, and heartache in the stories of his canoeing adventures with friends and family.

As we both continued our writing journey, Jim has been an encourager,  mentor, colleague and friend. In the next few weeks, we’ll be participating in some upcoming events together: talking about writing with students at South High School on Nov. 2, participating in author panels at the SEWI Festival of Books on Nov. 3, and doing a reading, book discussion and signing together on Dec. 13th at Subtext Books in St. Paul, MN. I had the opportunity to ask Jim some questions about his writing life. I hope you enjoy our interview!

Barb: Thank you for making yourself available for this interview, Jim. Can you tell us a little about yourself and the background that led you to become a writer?

Jim: Thanks so much for having me Barb.

Photo Credit: Roost Photography

Well, I am of that strange demographic, a 56 year old male going through an existential mid-life crisis and working it out through my writing. Frankly, it’s healthier than having an affair and buying a Corvette. Besides that, it even brings in a little beer money, so that’s a win.

My wife Donna and I have two grown children, Sarah, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota now living in Minneapolis and Ben, a sophomore at UW Madison. By day, I make my living as a Land Information Systems Supervisor for Waukesha County. It is a long winded title for a supervisor of a small team of mapping specialists and data geeks.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was a kid. In fourth grade I used to compile short stories on half-sheets of paper. It was something that took me to the places I wrote about. I think my writing today does the same. It is total escape and I can’t imagine not doing it.

Barb: You’ve posted some of the stories you wrote and illustrated as a child, which you found out that your mother saved. (I love the fact that she saved your writing, by the way!) Did you gain any insights from those glimpses into your younger self?

Jim: Yes, my mother presented them to me about 15 years ago and totally caught me off guard. I remember writing them like it was yesterday. It’s funny, but all of the stories seem to have a moralistic bent to them.The stories have a solid beginning, middle and end to them, but the main characters always seem to pay the price for their errant ways.

The other interesting tidbit I learned was that a few of them were outdoor adventure stories, rafting down a river, hunting, etc. It may have been foreshadowing for my first book, Dirty Shirt, which is based on adventures in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barb: Two of your published books are memoirs: Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: A ‘70s Memoir. As I read each of them, I was impressed by the detail of your memories from your youth. Do you have any strategies for taking yourself back to those moments from years ago?

Jim: I often wonder how it is that I can so vividly recall certain scenes, moments and dialog from those days so long ago. I wonder if memoirists have a knack or some sort of cognitive gift for remembering things that others do not. Many of my stories have a humorous element to them, so I think that helps. People tend to remember funny and tragic stories better than the mundane.

I guess I can’t pinpoint it to any one strategy as much as I just recall the story and start writing. As I move along, the details come into focus and I try and bring the reader back to that place and time.

Barb: You’ve published three poetry collections: Reciting from Memory, Written Life, and most recently, On a Road. What led you to cross over genres from memoir to poetry? Do these two genres compete for your attention, or complement one another?

Jim: When I enrolled in AllWriters’ Workshop and Workplace there were a couple of poets in the group. I was intrigued by their work and the craft in general. In an attempt to stretch myself, I started writing a few. I thought they were awful, but when I brought them into class, people really responded positively to them. It was encouraging, so I kept at it. Then, I had a short 20 line poem accepted as my first “published piece.” I was ecstatic! It fueled my desire for getting my work published and I haven’t looked back.

But, to the question, I feel the two genres complement each other nicely. After all, a poem is just a really, really short story. You’re forced to use an economy of words to get a descriptive, succinct message across. My instructor, Michael Giorgio put it best when he said, writing poetry makes you a better writer. I think that holds true regardless of genre.

Barb: You write often about your parents and siblings, especially in your most recent memoir, The Portland House. Tell us a little about your childhood family. What elements of your Portland House family’s characteristics have you sought to preserve?

Jim: I grew up in a big, single-parent family (7 kids) in the ‘70s. This made for a ton of funny stories as well as some heart touching moments. But it was an environment radically different from my current family of a wife and two kids.

My mother always taught us to respect our elders and one another and that is something I’ve always emphasized with my kids. I think it worked out because I have good kids.

Another thing I remember from my days as a boy, Mom always valued having dinner as a family around the table at least four or five nights a week. My wife and I made it a priority to do that same thing as a family. It is where we debrief from our day and laugh with one another. Even better, it almost always started with a prayer of thanksgiving.

Barb: What propels you to share the stories of your experiences through memoir and poetry?

Jim: When I first started writing my stories of the Boundary Waters, my intent was just to get stories down for my family – for posterity. As the stories accumulated, my writing instructor, Kathie Giorgio asked if I’d ever thought about putting them into a book, a memoir. I said, no I hadn’t. She said “Well, I think you should.” Two hundred and forty pages later, I had a Dirty Shirt.

But to be truthful, I think my stories of family and friends ring true for a lot of people. They can relate to sibling interactions, struggles in school, kid mischief and the like. These stories are timeless. My goal is to make them entertaining by adding humor and heart where applicable.

The same holds true for poetry. I love it when I finish a poem and it leaves me laughing or saying “Hmmmm…”

Barb: How do you find time to write? Do you write on a specific schedule?

Jim: I work a 40 hour a week job, so I have to make time to write. I try and do a little on weeknights, but usually my brain is a little fried by that time of day. One thing I do practice with regularity is a two hour bank of time on Saturdays. I call this my “anchor time” a term I got from another writer. If I carve out this time and keep it sacred, I can get a fair amount done. Then, if my weeknight writing doesn’t go well, at least I had my anchor time to show for the week. My wife has always been very supportive of my need for that time. Sometimes it even comes at the expense of household projects, but I do what I can in both arenas.

Barb: How do you feel about interactions with your readers? Do any special anecdotes come to mind?

Jim: It is the single most rewarding part of the process, getting feedback. It makes me happier than the money aspect for sure. Having someone say that they laughed or cried during the reading of my work, well, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? To evoke an emotional response from your audience.

I recall one review that said the reader laughed and cried, sometimes on the same page.

But to be honest, the one or two bad reviews I’ve received stay with me as much as the good ones. Writers tend to be critical of themselves as it is. To have someone validate that criticism hurts, but it’s all part of the game, I guess.

Barb: Can you tell us about your new release, and what you’re working on next?

Jim: My latest poetry chapbook, On a Road, came out on 10/21/2018. It is a series of poems written about a road trip I took to California from Minnesota with two friends in a rental car in 1984. Because the trip had elements of Kerouac’s classic On the Road, I wanted it to stylistically echo his work. It is different from and edgier than anything I’ve ever written before, so I’m not sure how people will perceive it. It was one of those things that was just in me and had to come out. I liken it to my Beatles “Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. A little out there. But therein lies the beauty of writing. The boundaries are loose and you go with your heart, right?

I am currently working on another memoir about my high school experience. I attended an all-male, Catholic, military school which in and of itself is unique enough to warrant a book. It is not just about the school however, it is about growing up and moving from boy to man and all the risk and reward that comes with that passage.

Of course I have two or three other ideas for projects, but I am trying to stay focused and finish one thing at a time. I might add that my only regret about my writing is that I got started so late (in my late forties). So, I’m writing like a maniac in an attempt to make up for it. Thankfully, I am having some success along the way. The whole deal is hard work, but a whole lot of fun.

Barb: Thank you, Jim, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life! Please leave us with your website address, upcoming events, and any social media accounts that our readers could use to follow you if they’re interested in learning more.

Jim: Thank you again for hosting me Barb. I am grateful to be appearing along with you and many other colleagues and friends at the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books on November 3rd. I wish you continued success with all of your writing pursuits.

My events page can be found Here

Web: http://jimlandwehr.com

Blog: www.writerjimlandwehr.com

Twitter: @jimlandwehr61

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJimLandwehr/

Click on the picture to learn more about Jim’s books.

Biography:

Jim Landwehr has two poetry collections, Reciting from Memory, and Written Life. He has a forthcoming chapbook On a Road. Jim also has two nonfiction books, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: A ’70s Memoir. His non-fiction stories have been published in Main Street RagPrairie Rose PublicationsSteam Ticket and others. His poetry has been featured in Torrid Literature Journal, Portage Magazine, Blue Heron Review and many others. He enjoys fishing, kayaking, biking and camping. Jim is poet laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin.

 

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Comeback Champion

Paddling the Mississippi River, one of our greatest joys was spotting the white heads and tails of bald eagles amidst the foliage, then watching as they launched from the trees to soar majestically through the sky, escorting us down the river corridor. So, you can imagine my delight when my friend, Mary Ann, told me that her husband helped to band and track bald eagles during the years when they were listed as an endangered species in many states. In fact, Chuck Sindelar was recognized by the Wisconsin DNR as a “Comeback Champion” for his efforts to help monitor the state’s bald eagle population during this troubling time.

History is filled with stories of comebacks – brilliant returns from all kinds of adversity. Each story is inspiring in its own way and holds the capacity to teach us about perspective, creativity, optimism, hope and perseverance. But, one particular story has touched generations of Americans – that of our esteemed national symbol, the American Bald Eagle.

In the early years of our country, bald eagles were plentiful. Adopted by Congress in 1782 as our national bird, the bald eagle represented majesty, strength and freedom. As the human population grew and moved westward, however, the eagle population began to decline. Building, logging, and farming encroached on their natural habitat and eagles were often shot as potential threats to livestock and as hunting and fishing competitors.

The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 made it illegal to kill eagles, disturb their nesting sites, or possess eagle feathers, eggs, or parts. Widespread use of a newly developed insecticide called DDT, however, caused toxicity problems with eagle egg development. The bald eagle population declined to only 417 nesting pairs by 1963.

Last month, Gene and I had the chance to meet Chuck and to talk with him about his work with eagles. Mary Ann welcomed me with a warm hug, then did the same to Gene. “Thank you for coming,” she said. Chuck, comfortably dressed in a white shirt tucked into blue jeans, shook hands and led us into their ranch home. Photos and collections lined the walls and filled the counters, bearing witness to the varied interests of this couple during more than fifty years of life together.

After taking seats in the living room, Chuck regaled us with stories of his interest in birds of prey, including four years of osprey studies, a Conservation Degree from UW-Stevens Point, and migration studies with peregrine falcons, owls and hawks. He began recording the locations of eagle nests and banding young eaglets in 1965, just two years before the bald eagle was listed as an endangered species in 43 of the 48 contiguous states. As he talked, I remembered learning about the plight of the bald eagle back when I was in middle school and recalled my worry when they were added to the list of endangered species. “I banded young eagles from ’65 to ’89,” he said. “But I didn’t do it all by myself. Ron Eckstein and Dave Evans worked with me. Between the three of us, we banded over 3000 eagles.”

Chuck placed a stack of topographical county maps on the coffee table, spreading one out flat for us to see. Color-coded circles surrounded dots, representing nests, scattered around Marien County. “How did you find all the nests?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, settling back in his chair, “They’re a lot easier to see from the air. So, even though I don’t like to fly and I don’t much like heights, I hired a pilot to fly over each county. The nests were often five to six feet wide, so they weren’t hard to see. I liked to go best in the early spring, when there was still some snow. The snow in the nest made a big white circle that was easy to see from above. If there wasn’t snow and the eagle pair was in the nest, their white feathers also helped.”

“When I first did this, I didn’t get paid,” Chuck admitted. “My first wife -” he looked over at Mary Ann, who just smiled back, then continued, “- worked to pay the bills.”

“And to let him follow his passion,” Mary Ann added her perspective. “I worked as a medical secretary,” she went on to explain, “typing medical records. And took care of our girls.”

“She also helped type my reports,” added Chuck. “I couldn’t have done it without her. But I call her my first wife so she won’t get too comfortable.” He smiled at what I figured was an ongoing joke between the two of them.

“What kind of plane did you use?” asked Gene. I could always count on him to show interest in technical matters.

“The first pilot I hired was a fishing guide,” Chuck explained. “He had a little wing-under plane. It wasn’t easy to see past the wing, so I had to keep telling him, ‘Go lower…AND slower.” Chuck laughed. “He didn’t like that very much. Years later, when the Fish and Wildlife Service hired me and when I got a few contracts from the DNR, I got to use a pilot who flew for the government, John Winship. His plane was one of the only ones that had those belly cameras, so we could take pictures while we flew.”

Young Eaglet with Leg Band

Chuck went on to explain that he’d make two flights over each nest in the spring of each year: one to find out which nests had eagle pairs incubating eggs, and a second time to determine how many of the eggs hatched. Then, when the eaglets reached the right age, he would locate the trees on foot, don spiked lineman’s boots and climb as high as 125 feet to band the young eagles. “About three weeks old was the best time to band,” he explained. “Earlier than that, their feet could slip right out of the bands. But any later, and they’re harder to catch. Sometimes the babies hopped right out of the nest onto the tree branches and a few  even tried to fly!”

“What if the parents were in the nest?” I asked.

“We didn’t climb up until they left the tree to get food for the chicks,” Chuck explained. “If they returned while we were in the nest, they’d just land in another tree and wait until we left.”

Some eaglets were sent from Wisconsin to help populate other states.

After the US banned DDT use in 1972 and Canada followed a year later, bald eagles started an amazing comeback. Wisconsin did so well that sometimes, other states would request young eaglets to help establish populations in their states. “If there were three eaglets in a nest,” Chuck said, “once they were old enough, we’d sometimes put one in a wooden box to send it to another state.”

Chuck found it satisfying to see the increase in breeding pairs and see how far his birds traveled. “Take a look at this,” he said, placing a small map in front of me. Lines originating in Wisconsin radiated out in all directions to locations around the country. “When people find banded birds,” he explained, “they report it and I get an email that tells me who found it and where. I keep a record of each one.” A lot of them are in Wisconsin, but this map shows the ones that traveled farther.” I noticed that the lines on the map reached as far south as Texas and Florida and as far west as Idaho.

Chuck stopped banding in 1989 when the state took over the program. in 1995, the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species lists and in 2007, was removed from Threatened Species lists in all states. “I read that as of 2014, there were over 10,000 nesting pairs,” I announced.

“They think there are a lot more now,” he said. “More like 18,000 pairs, I think. But they don’t study it anymore, so there’s really no way of knowing. It’s just a guess.” Just the fact that the eagles are secure enough not to need continued monitoring felt, to me, like a huge win.

“Thank you for spending time with us,” I said to Chuck, as we prepared to leave. “And for all you’ve done. You have such wonderful stories.” Another hug for Mary Ann, and we turned to leave. In what seemed like no time, two hours had passed, listening to the stories of this man – a central figure in one of the most significant wildlife recoveries of my lifetime. A man who loved eagles enough to sacrifice time with his family and financial reward to help increase our understanding of them and to identify, document and protect their nests and young. I will be forever grateful.

(Background information used for this story was obtained from the following websites: http://www.dnr.wi.gov, http://www.nationaleaglecenter.org, and from an article written by Paul A. Smith (1/18/2012) for http://www.jsonline.)

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