14 December 2016

*Enter to Win!* WALKING THE LLANO by Shelley Armitage

Shelley Armitage

Genre: Eco-Memoir / Nature
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Date of Publication: February 15, 2016
Number of Pages: 216

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When American explorers arrived in the Texas Panhandle, they dubbed the region the “Great American Desert.” Its rough terrain appeared flat, dry, uninhabitable. Later, cell phone towers, oil rigs, and wind turbines added to this stereotype. Yet in this lyrical ecomemoir, Shelley Armitage charts a unique rediscovery of an unknown land, a journey at once deeply personal and far-reaching in its exploration of the connections between memory, spirit, and place.

Armitage begins her walk by following the Middle Alamosa Creek thirty meandering miles from her family farm to the Canadian River. Growing up in the small llano town of Vega, Texas, she finds the act of walking inseparable from the act of listening and writing. “What does the land say to us?” she asks as she witnesses human alterations to the landscape—perhaps most catastrophic the drainage of the land’s most precious water source, the Ogallala Aquifer.

But the llano’s wonders persist: colorful mesas and canyons, vast flora and fauna, diverse wildlife. While meditating on the region’s history, Armitage recovers the voices of ancient, Native, and Hispano peoples as interwoven with her own: her father’s legacy, her mother’s decline, a brother’s love.  The llano holds not only the beauty of ecological surprises but a renewed kinship in a world ever-changing.

Reminiscent of the work of memoirists Terry Tempest Williams and John McPhee, Walking the Llano is a soaring testimony to the power of landscape to draw us into greater understanding of ourselves and deeper connection with the places we inhabit.

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"Both an intensely lyrical and intimate scrapbook of familial history and a uniquely sublime travelogue of the American Southwestern landscape” 
A Starred review from Kirkus

". . .an enticing mix of memoir, nature study and the hunting of ghosts. [ Walking The Llano] is a testament to the value of slowing down and watching where you are going." 
Ollie Reed, The Albuquerque Journal

". . .[Armitage] is an explorer, and from her book we learn much about people who settled [the llano] and those who must now make gutwrenching decisions about modern methods of energy extraction. . .a perfectly balanced memoir." 
Kimberly Burk, The Oklahoman

"With a cleareyed appreciation for landscape and our place in it combined with uncluttered flowing writing, Armitage establishes her place in the tradition of the best American nature writing." Mark Pendleton, INK

“Once you’ve ambled into the lyrical, evocative pages of Shelley Armitage’s ‘Walking the Llano’, the Plains will never seem plain again.” 
William deBuys , Author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest

“Shelley Armitage’s prose is as poetic as it is intelligent. She masterfully weaves together her personal story with the narrative of the Llano, and she does so in a way that begs the question of what lies ahead for the people and the land she loves. If literature is a study of the human heart—and it is—then Walking the Llano is a quiet masterpiece.” 
BK Loren, Author of T heft:A Novel and Animal, Mineral, Radical: Essays

“In Walking the Llano, Shelley Armitage does for the Staked Plains what John McPhee did for the Northern Plains in Rising from the Plains. She carefully mines the history, character, and geology of the Llano Estacado and combines it with a compelling personal narrative to create an account that flows with lyricism, authenticity, and wisdom. A splendid and cleareyed book.” 
Nancy Curtis – Coeditor of Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West

Can you share the backstory of how Walking the Llano came together?

I have always spent parts of summers in Vega, Texas in order to take care of the farm and house I inherited the house almost 100 years old and hand­built. Both are in a small town with limited cultural resources and an increasing attrition of people I’ve known from childhood. So although I have always jogged or walked at the farm, I found myself going there more and more when I became an owner­ checking fence, thinking about improvements, like turning the place back into grass. (Almost half of the land is already native prairie, but other has been farmed since the l920s.)

This was a kind of recreation, something to do, and an act of caregiving what I’ve called a “Habit of Landscape.” I thought about what the land might look like from various perspectives, including that of travelers from years ago and today. I had always found the Panhandle beautiful, and after consulting a topographic map from the Farm Agency, I discovered that one of the two draws on our place is labeled as the origin of an intermittent creek; the Middle Alamosa Creek.

I got the idea of following it, as if there were no fences or restrictions of ownership, trying to imagine the land as it originally was and combined that with the stories I remembered my dad telling of Ysabel Gurule, an early settler in the Canadian River Valley. When I looked closely at the map, I saw that the Middle Alamosa began on our farm and emptied into the Canadian some thirty miles north near Ysabel’s camp, a cow camp where he later lived near his original 1878 dugout. One day at the hardware store I mentioned my interest in hiking the land to the store owner, Randy Roark. He helped make some of my hikes more accessible with his four­wheel drive Ford pickup after I began the summer hikes on my own. My fascination led to notes, journal entries, and finally the realization I could write a book about this special place so unknown and unappreciated, even among the locals

How had being a Texan influenced your writing?

I grew up aware that Texans were stereotyped and also my particular area of Texas. So I have a healthy commitment to exploring the voices of underdogs. Texas also gave me a feeling of being a westerner or southwesterner, in love and marked forever by the seeming freedom and beckoning of big skies and far horizons.

Where did your love of books, storytelling, reading, and/or writing come from?
My mother read to me and I had great aunts from the South who were great storytellers. My mother was a serious reader and shared the love of books. My parents both came from poor families but those families imparted a love of knowledge and learning. My grandfather, in particular, was a bookish man as well as a self-made man. In our house it seemed love of learning and self-reliance and joy in working went hand in hand. My dad would bring home small blank address books from work and as an elementary student I wrote stories in them.

What do you like to read in your spare time?

I read now on Kindle almost exclusively having run out of space for books!!! I read mostly fiction and some nonfiction, primarily by writers of color or international writers. I’m interested mainly in contemporary work.

What kinds of writing do you do?

I have been a university professor for forty years (now retired emerita) and thus my publications were research based and academic. But someone wisely told me years ago to write everything possible to be read, that is, stylistically “readable.” So from the earliest academic journal articles (“The Lady as Jock: Popular Culture Perspectives on the Woman Athlete,” l976) to critical biographies, literary memoirs, collections of critical essays and other works, I have tried to write clearly but evocatively, as a gifted essayist like E.B. White or Susan Sontag might. Walking the Llano was my first work of creative nonfiction, and I’ve published poetry.

What book do you wish you could have written?

I’d like to answer this somewhat differently. I wish I had started writing creative nonfiction long ago. But my academic career required a certain kind of writing which demanded all my time. At age 14, and even earlier when I was a child, I wanted to “write”—and I think that meant work of both astute witness and imagination.

What fascinates you most about writing?

Writing reawakens us to what it means to be human­­to our own aliveness­­ as do all art forms. Whenever I write I am amazed and grateful. It’s hard work but mostly a miracle. On the good days you feel like a conduit, part of blessed flow and connection with readers. No matter what readers’ personal take on a book or passage, this is a wonderful experience.

How has your education, profession, or background helped you in your writing career?

All of my life has added up to this—and was made possible by others’ lives who have touched mine. I think I’ve had the rare experience of being on first name basis with folks in my home town for almost seventy years while also having traveled the world, holding jobs in very diverse places, challenging myself, reaching out. Perhaps in part it’s being adopted. I like and am sustained by my roots, but revel in new connections.

My parents were wonderful people, well­ respected and deeply loved. They set high standards but with love written all over them. They encouraged me to follow my dreams and never put constraints on me culturally or because I was a girl; they let by example and taught joy in living, humility, and mutual respect. I hope Walking the Llano reflects this.

What are some of the jobs you have held? Have any of them impacted your writing?

Yes, my career as a professor has allowed me to enjoy a life of learning. This includes teaching and thus learning from various groups of students and faculty and different places (Hawai’i, the Southwest, New England, the American South, Poland, Portugal, Hungary, Finland, Ethiopia, etc.) as well as the challenge of teaching so many courses I can’t recount them. Because of limits of the curriculum through time, I’ve sought to not only teach to close those gaps, but to research and write and publish articles and books which would as well.

What type of work is the most rewarding or satisfying for you?

Physical work, including daily exercise. I know vaguely how to drive a tractor and shoot a jump shot. I swim daily. I like to combine such activities with writing and reflection and cultural events. I deeply care about students, and in my forty years of teaching hope that championing them and helping them to build their futures is their legacy to give to others.

You’ve had great success already with Walking the Llano. Do you have any other projects / books planned going forward?

I have a collection of poems out with publishers for consideration. I am working a collection of short creative nonfiction pieces, kind of like short stories, which are set and have to do with places I have lived and unusual experiences there (places like Eritrea, Finland, Poland). Though I haven’t in years, I am starting to write shorter nonfiction pieces for journals such as Orion.


Dr. Shelley Armitage is Professor Emerita from University of Texas at El Paso where she taught courses in literature of the environment, women’s studies, and American Studies.  She is author of eight award winning books and 50 scholarly articles.  She resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico but still manages her family farm outside of Vega, Texas.

Armitage grew up in the northwest Texas Panhandle in Oldham County.  She owns and operates the family farm, 1200 acres of native grass—once part wheat and milo—bordering Interstate 40 on the south and near the Canadian River breaks on the north.  Armitage shared this landscape from her childhood on, riding with her father and grandfather to check crops and cattle and later jogging and more recently walking the farm roads.  Though most of her adult life has been spent away from the Panhandle as a university professor, Armitage has always returned to the “farm” which offered until recently a 360-degree view of earth and sky.  Wind energy farms, oil and gas, microwave towers, and strip mining have greatly altered her childhood landscape.

Throughout her distinguished university career, Armitage’s professional life offered her a connection with landscape. Because of senior Fulbright teaching grants in Portugal and Finland, a Distinguished Fulbright Chair in American Literature in Warsaw, a Distinguished Fulbright Chair in American Studies in Budapest as well as research, writing, and teaching in Ethiopia, the American Southwest, and Hawai’i, place has taken on special meanings.  As the Dorrance Roderick Professor at University of Texas at El Paso and a Distinguished Senior Professor in Cincinnati, she decided in her most recent book to write about the meaning of home place as connected to the land’s own ecological and human stories. 
As the holder of three National Endowment for the Humanities grants, a National Endowment of the Arts grant, and a Rockefeller grant, Armitage nevertheless prizes a recent recognition from the United States Department of Agriculture most highly.  Commended for her “commitment to the spirit, principles, and practices” of the Conservation Reserve Program, Armitage has restored the farm to grassland in an effort to heal fragmented landscapes by recreating wildlife corridors and habitat.  Like the fragmented narratives of stories lost, she says: “If we could read the land like a poem, we might more intimately learn from it, understand what it says of natural and human cycles—and that sometimes uneasy relationship between them.”

2 Winners Each Win a Signed Copy of the Book
December 12 - December 21, 2016

Excerpt 1
Author Interview 1
Scrapbook Page 1
Excerpt 2
Author Interview 2
Scrapbook Page 2
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30 November 2016

*Giveaway Alert!* MOVED, LEFT NO ADDRESS by Vickie Phelps



Vickie Phelps

  Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Date of Publication: June 10, 2016
Number of Pages: 328

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I'm so pleased to host Vickie on my blog, because she worked for Baron's Book Store in Longview, TX. That bookstore was a special place for my daughter and me when she was a little girl. We have many wonderful memories of shopping for books and sipping cappuccinos and Italian sodas in that shop. <3

Joel Webster’s uncle disappeared forty years ago without a trace. All he knows about his uncle are the stories his mother has told him. Now his parents are dead and Joel is left alone. When he finds some old postcards with his uncle’s name on them, he decides to search for him. His journey takes him from a small town in Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He encounters danger, death threats, and a beautiful woman he can’t resist as he searches for his long-lost uncle.


     My uncle, Joel Webster, disappeared without a trace on June 1, 1949. At the time, he lived on the family farm at Silver Creek, Texas, with my parents. I wasn’t around then, but my mom told me stories about him that intrigued me at an early age. Of course, her stories only went as far as the date of his disappearance.
     On the day he vanished, Dad invited Uncle Joel to go with him and my mother into Silver Creek. “Joel, let’s go into town and pick up some supplies. While we’re there, we’ll get us something cold to drink and visit with some of the other fellows for awhile.”
     Uncle Joel shook his head. “Warner, I think I’m just gonna set on the porch awhile and enjoy the nice weather. We won’t have too many more days like this before the heat sets in. You and Maria go on into town and do your shopping.”
     My mom joined in hoping to persuade him. “It’s your birthday, Joel. Come with us. We’ll treat you to an ice cream soda.”
     But he couldn’t be swayed. They left him sitting on the porch alone, smoking a Viceroy cigarette and blowing smoke rings into the fresh morning air. When they returned later in the day, Uncle Joel was gone.

To keep reading Moved, Left No Address and to sample Vickie's book, 
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Vickie Phelps writes to encourage, inspire, and influence. She has published articles, devotionals, and essays in more than fifty magazines and contributed to several anthologies. Vickie is the author of the novels, Postmark From the Past and Moved, Left No Address, and  a devotional book, Psalms for the Common Man. Vickie is coauthor with Jo Huddleston of the gift book, Simply Christmas, and two books on writing, How to Write for the Christian Marketplace, and Writing 101: A Handbook of Tips & Encouragement for Writers.

Vickie is the founder and director of the East Texas Christian Writers Group in Longview, Texas and a member of the Northeast Texas Writers Organization. She worked for eighteen years as a bookseller for Barron’s Books, an independent bookstore in Longview, Texas.

Vickie is a native Texan and lives in Henderson, Texas with her husband, Sonny, and one very spoiled schnauzer. 



FOUR WINNERS EACH WIN A SIGNED COPY: (US ONLY) November 28 – December 7, 2016

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