Prince Albert book launch

Merle Massie signing the last copy of Forest Prairie Edge at the Prince Albert book launch, Coles Bookstore, June 5, 2014. A sellout, and a great crowd.

Local history challenges provincial identity

One of the best interviews and reviews so far of my new book, Forest Prairie Edge: Place History in Saskatchewan.


Thinking of the Great Trek migrants, and what they might say to us today:

Originally posted on Merle Massie A Place in History:

The following was originally published (in slightly edited form) for ActiveHistory.ca 23 January 201. We’re a group of historians interested in thinking about history and its current and future applications.

So, I’m writing a book.

What follows, for your January darn-it’s-cold-and-I’m-ready-for-something-kind-of-fun reading pleasure, is a primer (briefing notes) about the book. Given the growing recognition that Mother Nature remains strong and rather angry about human-induced climate change – kudos to everyone who spent Christmas with no power – I’m writing about human migration.

Drawing lessons from families who pulled up stakes and moved during the Great Trek from one biome (prairie south) to another (boreal north) due to drastic climate and economic problems during the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties, this book is based on history but with an eye to practical suggestions for the future. Imagine me having a conversation with my Grandpa and Grandma: what should I do…

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Review in the Prince Albert Daily Herald

A great interview in the Prince Albert Daily Herald, in advance of the book launch, reading, and signing June 5th, Coles Bookstore, Gateway Mall, Prince Albert. 7pm.

This past week, Ed White of The Western Producer has written a superb overview of my book, the life of a rural scholar, and a personal blog post that connects Ed with our shared history 20 years ago, as MA students in the department of History at the University of Saskatchewan.

Book review: http://www.producer.com/2014/05/author-aims-to-alter-view-of-forest-edge-farming/

On being a rural scholar: http://www.producer.com/2014/05/rural-living-an-advantage-in-writing-history-book/

Ed White on our shared past: http://www.producer.com/2014/05/impressive-history-2/

With grateful thanks to someone that I have not seen for twenty years — but whose work, interests, and circles (agriculture, and agricultural history) continue to cross paths with my own.

Number One!

ImageEach week, McNally Robinson Saskatoon publishes the ‘top ten’ list of books sold through their Saskatoon bookstore. I have no idea how influential this list is, but like most top ten lists, it has a certain public appeal. Published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in the Weekend section, it’s a list that I read every week, just to see what’s new, what’s hot, and what’s sustaining interest.

Imagine my shock and, frankly, glee when my new book, Forest Prairie Edge: Place History in Saskatchewan landed at number one on this week’s chart!


Dissect that number, and the first thing to note is that I had a book launch. At McNally Robinson. With about 50 attendees, many of whom bought a book. So no doubt when next week rolls around, my book will either be much further down the list, or absent altogether. (Sad, but probably true.)

As an aside: my teenagers were wildly impressed that I beat The Fault in Our Stars, by the latest popular author writing teen fiction. I also topped Dan Brown and Maeve Binchy, which stopped my breath.

Nonetheless, I have to think that being on the top of that list makes a statement. It is a statement about the power of friends, family, and colleagues, who came to my book launch and bought signed books. My thanks to each of you.

It is also a statement to the support given by McNally Robinson to local and regional authors. They host book signings, invest in advertising, and draw people in to their store. Their team is upbeat and busy, and all local authors (including me) give them a warm and sustained round of applause. Of the top ten books on that list, five are Saskatchewan authors! Kudos and congratulations to Regine Haensel, Trevor Herriot, Mary-Ann Kirkby, and dee Hobsbawn-Smith.

Finally, putting a Saskatchewan history book at the top of the McNally Robinson list speaks to the power and reach of local and regional history. Saskatchewan stories are our shared history. My book draws on many Saskatchewan stories that don’t usually make it into Saskatchewan prairie history books.

Set in the forest fringe of the province at Prince Albert, my book looks at the way the two halves of the province (forest and prairie) work together. It breaks open the ‘prairie’ narrative we’ve come to expect of Saskatchewan, and turns it on its head. It tells story after story from the forest — changing, I hope for good, the way my readers think about Saskatchewan.

This book explains how I can be from Saskatchewan, but not from the prairie. 

If you pick up a copy, let me know what you think.

This month is a mix of elation, relief, pride, extreme worry, sprinkled with a dash of confusion.

Elation, relief and pride: my new book, Forest Prairie Edge: Place History in Saskatchewan has been published this spring by University of Manitoba Press! Whew. Producing a book — a tome, really — has been my goal since 2006, when I entered the University of Saskatchewan as a ‘mature’ PhD student.



Defended as PhD dissertation in December of 2010, my book-when-it-was-still-a-dissertation sat in a box as I took on an entirely new research project in an entirely different department. I just didn’t know what to do with my box full of hand-annotated dissertation copies. I bought several books on ‘how to turn your dissertation into a book’ and read them, but that was as far as I had gotten. I did occasionally dust the box (maybe — I’m vague on dusting), or move it (searching for papers in the box beneath that box, or the one under that…).

Contact out of the blue from David Carr of University of Manitoba Press put my rusted wheels in motion. Mr. Carr had read some of my work on this blog, as well as on ActiveHistory.ca and TheOtter.ca, two blogs which generate exceptional internet traffic. “You have a dissertation?” Me: yes. “What are you doing with it” (subtext: have you shopped it around to publishers yet?). Me: not much, no. “Send it to me and I’ll have our acquisitions editor read it.”

A great statement, but I all but panicked. ALL of the How-to-turn-your-dissertation-into-a-book books carry express warnings: DO NOT send your dissertation in and call it a manuscript. It needs work! It needs cutting! It needs expanding! It’s not ready! But Mr. Carr was adamant: don’t touch it. Send it to me just the way it is. 

With trepidation, I did. Then I waited. (It was a monster of a dissertation: over 400 pages, filled with maps and photographs. Even a speed reader would be stymied by it). In time, UManPress’ illustrious acquisitions editor Jean Wilson sent me a wonderful email. I clipped statements from it to blow up and hang on my wall — academic praise is a rarity, and should be savoured. She wrote that it was a “wonderful” manuscript, “one of the most groundbreaking mss that I’ve had the privilege to look at with my acquisition editor eyes.” Finally, “It was a pleasure to read this manuscript, which is well written, carefully thought out, and should change how Saskatchewan is perceived.”

HOME RUN! Or, at least I made the team and got to go up to bat in the big leagues. Perhaps that’s the better metaphor. UManPress wrote up a contract, I spent time revising and smoothing the manuscript, and by spring 2014, the book has arrived in bookstores near you — or, at least, to a bookstore and mailbox connected by the clicks of your computer.

Which brings me to my moments of extreme worry, with a few dashes of confusion. The book launch. Book signing. Author readings. 

Releasing your book into the world is a bit like releasing a paper lantern into the night — brilliantly lit, but joined by hundreds of other brilliantly lit paper lanterns released at the same time. How do you make your book stand out? Luckily, the Press has a dedicated marketing guru who slipped into action, promoting my book to media and bookstores. As a result, I was lucky enough to secure a wonderful book launch at McNally Robinson Saskatoon on May 15th, 2014. With an introduction by Saskatchewan’s eminent historian Bill Waiser, it was a successful evening.



I admit: I followed the Roy Romanow rule of public talks: fill as many chairs as you can with relatives and friends. But there were lots of people that I didn’t know, did not expect, or who just ‘happened’ to be in the store. They were polite, enthusiastic, and warm. 

But that brings me to my extreme worry and confusion: what do you do as an author if no one shows up? It’s a thought that catches my breath and wakes me up at night (almost as much as the nightmare I had where I forgot about the launch and missed it!).

Yet the related confusion has my brow furrowing: if the McNally Robinson event was the ‘launch’, what do I call the rest of them? Are they author signings and readings? Are they also ‘launches’? Do I keep re-launching this book until it starts to fly on its own? So I’m curious: what would you call them?

There are three more events/launches/author readings/author signings/paper lantern releases planned over the next few weeks, with more in the works. They are (at the moment):

Thursday, May 22nd, Weasie’s Gourmet Blends, Biggar, 1 pm;

Thursday, May 29th, Indigo Books and Music Saskatoon, 7pm; introduction by Toddi Steelman of the School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan;

Thursday, June 5th, Coles Bookstore Prince Albert, 7pm; introduction by Jamie Benson of the Prince Albert Historical Society.

I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter. I’ll continue to ‘salt’ the audience with close and distant family members and friends, go out for a drink afterward, and enjoy those that come to each event. It’s a celebration of close to eight years of work, culminating in something tangible, something you can take with you to the lake this summer, or read, snuggled up in your bed. It’s a history book, so it will be around for years, slowly selling, slowly building a readership. Libraries will carry it. I’ll hock a few myself, schlepping them around Saskatchewan in my motorhome.

As my kids remind me, with shining eyes: Mom, you wrote a book! And it’s in the bookstore! With your name on it!

Yes, I did. It is. And I’m proud of it, too. 


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