“I’ll be the first to admit…I’ve always been a bit of a daydreamer,” says Chuck Hackenmiller, author of the recently published book Follow the Cow Path Home. The book, published with The Write Place, is a reflective look at farm life of 1950s and 60s Iowa, when Chuck grew up. Here he shares some of his thoughts on writing, poetry, journalism, and publishing.
Why did you want to write a book about your childhood on the family farm?
They always say if you publish, write about something that you can relate to or have a vast knowledge of, and the words will come easier. So a memoir seemed to be a good fit for my first book. After I had retired in 2004 from the newspaper reporting-editing business, I knew I needed to keep writing. Writing about my childhood on the family farm appeared to be the logical choice. My mother and her friends from those rural days are in their 80s, so she and her neighbors were my inspiration, along with my siblings and my own family. It was also a tribute to my dad, who passed away in 1996. He worked very hard and long to be a successful farmer.
What was your writing process for this book? How long did it take you?
When starting the book, I jotted notes on paper of some of my recollections, and from those notes I began writing, mostly on one topic at a time whenever the inspiration hit me. Eventually I organized the subject matter into chapters. I wrote enough without getting burned out. I have a collection of poetry, too, and I placed those poems with the chapter I felt best fit the subject matter.
With my familiarity with the subject matter, it didn’t take long to write. But it stayed in files on my computer for years. I had every intention of publishing it, and checked into publishing companies, but kept putting it off. When the publishing firm, The Write Place, held a contest and my memoir entry was selected as a finalist, and the prize was a publishing discount, I decided to go for it.
What is your favorite passage from the book?
“Many sometimes stray from what appears to be their destined path, but there’s always that increasing urge to return to that safe corridor, or
comfort zone, that will take them home―if only for a few seconds, a moment, hour, or day to reminisce―and to quench that thirst for the memories of days gone by.”
What was the most difficult part of writing it?
Writing was the simple part, but the difficulties were in deciding how to correlate the photos and poems to the copy, making it grammatically proper, knowing little about book design and publishing, having the confidence to know if what I wrote was marketable, and being concerned about publishing costs and contracts.
You write poetry as well, some of which is included in your book. How do you get your inspiration for your poems? How is writing poetry different than prose?
Just like prose, I write what I’m familiar with. Poetry, I feel, has a hard or soft reflective impact upon on a reader once that last verse is written. Unless what you write is an ode to someone or something, the impact needs to be realized with fewer, but more powerful words. With prose, words flow easier and stretch longer toward that impact moment.
How did your career in print journalism prepare you for writing your book?
Editing experience is helpful, photography skills contribute, and the ability to put a story together is essential. I wrote personal columns, too, which is different than straight-forward news stories, allowing me an opportunity to enhance my imagination.
What advice do you have to others who want to write a memoir?
Do it before you forget things. Get some feedback from people other than kinfolk, to see if what you write appeals to a wide enough audience. Find a solid, experienced publisher. Plan better. I had some poems written earlier that I wished later I put in the book. Make
sure you have enough “eyes” to look at and edit your copy…nobody is perfect and having a professional appearance is important. Accept editing changes because they will only make your material more readable. Be flexible and open to publishers’ ideas. Their goal is to put out a quality product. Finally, once the book is finished, be prepared to confidently and aggressively market it and plan for some rejections…your book might not appeal to some. Learn about how to make a book signing event into a success.
And start thinking perhaps of the next book.