Webmaster: So, Jackie, have you always written?
Jackie: My parents were readers and read to us, and from my earliest days I knew books and words were special. It only followed that to write down words, to write books, was as special a thing as one could do.
Webmaster: So when did you write your first book?
Jackie: In third grade; it was a collection of small stories about rabbits and fairies. My fourth-grade book featured a pair of anthropomorphic dogs doing things I wanted to do. In one chapter Bumpy and Billy Bones built a raft and floated down a river--we had just been forbidden to launch an old barn door out into our raging, flooded creek.
Webmaster: But The Cloudlanders?
Jackie: That was the fifth grade book. It was a continuous story, my hero and heroine managed to get up to lands in the clouds, and jumped from adventure to adventure. It was heavily influenced by the Oz books. A friend of my parents who edited The Galesburg (Illinois) Post, a weekly newspaper, saw the story in progress, and started to print it. After a while the printed word caught up to my written copy, and I sweated under a deadline. It was too much pressure; I brought my kids down from the clouds in a hurry. But they'd been up there four and a half months!
Webmaster: I'm ready for your sixth grade book.
Jackie: There wasn't one. About then in school they began to teach us how to write and I found I was doing it all wrong. I got bogged down in outlines and grammar, and the joy of creation vanished. Granted, they were teaching us how to write essays and book reports, no schools were thinking about creative writing, but I didn't differentiate. I still wanted to write books, but didn't write again till college. There I found creative writing classes and grabbed them in a greedy embrace. I wish now I'd written, during all those earlier years, about activities and people on the farm, kept a journal. I regret all the material I lost, especially that I didn't get down the stories of my grandparents, and my great aunts and uncles.
Webmaster: But still, you managed to gather a whole lot of material. Look at the Barn books.
Jackie: My dad was always telling stories. When I was fourteen I filled a small notebook with the ones we heard oftenest -the time he had to plane off his name from the country school's outhouse door; how many freckles Daisy had on her udder--she was the cow he milked morning and night while he envied the sparrows happily pecking on the barnyard horse apples; the time my grandfather saw a little boy milking onto his cold bare feet held over the bucket. The farmer with no legs who could climb a ladder. At fifteen or so I wrote Grampa a note -he was deaf - that I was going to write him a book, call it The Round Barn. I should have grabbed a pencil then and there, and taken down every story he knew. But I wasn't clear about what I wanted to write, or how to go about it, or the questions to ask. And at that age, you think everybody's going to live forever.
Webmaster: But you do have some grandfather stories, don't you?
Jackie: The milking-on-feet one he told often. Others I gleaned from his writings, and the ones about him I learned by asking--the family, farm workers, neighbors, the university, all over. Everybody had stories about Grampa, or "Daddy Dougan" as he was called.
Webmaster: And now they're all in the barn books?
Jackie: Yes, the first two books, Stories From The Round Barn, and More Stories From The Round Barn are excerpts from the parent book, The Round Barn. Volume I was just published and sponsored by the Beloit College Press. Volume II and III will be coming out over the next year or so.
Webmaster: How are the three volumes organized?
Jackie: They're organized geographically with Volume I concentrating heavily on the silo and barn and the milk house and milk route. Volume II and III will cover the general farm work as well as the hybrid seed corn business, alfalfa raising and artificial breeding – three industries that the farm was in from the very beginning. And mixed in with it all are the stories from the farm. The stories are the glue that hold it all together.
Webmaster: So – stories and historical factual information; it's all in what you have been calling “The Big Book”… The Round Barn?
Jackie: Yes, everything from the farm's sixty-five year span. It also contains loads of original photographs from our extensive archive. It's a rich, rich document.
Webmaster: Then it's finished?
Jackie: Well, Volume I is published now and Volume II and III are on the way - but it's a load I can keep mining for the rest of my life. It affected my teaching: even after I retired, I offered a course, "Writing from Family Materials," where students got down their own family stories, mined their own lodes. Their emigration and religious histories, medical histories, family documents, recipes, photo albums, clippings, interviews of all their relatives. Family skeletons tumbling out of closets. Whole families got in on the act and we'd have a big party at the end and meet everybody. I'm not currently teaching that class, but I'm still doing extended workshops. Lots of laughing and tears.
Webmaster: I guess we can let out the secret now. I first met you when I took that very class some years ago. In fact, I have every intention of coming to one of those workshops again, if you'll have me. I have a few more family skeletons to exhume and document.
Well, the Barn books are my magnum opus, warts and all, really my love
letter to the world. I hope the world will read them!