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A Wilder Rose [Paperback]

Susan Wittig Albert
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Oct 2013
In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane-world traveler, journalist, highly-paid magazine writer-returned from an Albanian sojourn to her parents' Ozark farm. Almanzo Wilder was 71 and Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. Then came the Crash. Rose's investments vanished and the magazine market dried up. That's when Laura wrote "Pioneer Girl," her story of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake.The rest is literary history. But it isn't the history we thought we knew. Based on the unpublished diaries of Rose Wilder Lane and other documentary evidence, A Wilder Rose tells the surprising true story of the often strained collaboration that produced the Little House books-a collaboration that Rose and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, concealed from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers. Acclaimed author Susan Wittig Albert follows the clues that take us straight to the heart of this fascinating literary mystery. *** Rose Wilder Lane deserves to be fully recognized for her coauthorship of the Little House books.Susan Wittig Albert does that, and more, in a compelling and well-researched novel that accurately recreates Lane's complex and troubled relationship with her mother during the dark days of the Depression and the Dirty Thirties. A revealing behind-the-scenes look into a literary deception that has persisted for decades.-William Holtz, author of The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane

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Product details

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Persevero Press (1 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0989203506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0989203500
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,126,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By Cheryl M-M TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I have to admit that I was only made aware of the controversy surrounding the Laura Ingalls Wilder books a year or so ago.
To me it made complete sense that her daughter Rose, who was an acclaimed writer before she returned home to her parents, would take on the task of editing and re-writing the books.
Isn't that what editors do nowadays? Help to edit and reshape a manuscript? The only difference being that the editor usually doesn't receive credit for the work and is certainly not listed as a co-author because it isn't their concept. So I guess the real question is how much influence did Rose have on the stories and in turn that makes the stories more likely to hyped up fictional accounts, as opposed to memoir like tales of Laura and her family.
The author has gone to bat for Rose in this book and I think this attempt at an accolade has been a long time coming.
In the hierarchy of families one of the children will usually end up, as an adult, being the carer or person who makes sure the parents are ok. Rose was the sole living child of Almanzo and Laura, hence the duty fell to her.
Now I understand that many people will think that the grown child doesn't have to fulfill that obligation as an adult, but I can guarantee you that in the majority of families there will be one person who does feel they have to. Of course in that case it means you leave your own dreams aside and perhaps have to alter your life to accommodate the elderly parents. So I can understand the frustration in Rose. The feeling of being caged with no choice or escape, despite loving her parents very much. That feeling would probably have been enhanced by the anxiety and despair during the Great Depression.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  141 reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Complicated Story 11 Sep 2013
By 8thCyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have extremely complicated thoughts about this book. I am a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, which then led me to a lifetime of research into Laura the person. I knew the basics about Rose - more than the average LIW fan, but still not a lot - and so I was very curious to read this book. However, knowing that she not only agreed with William Holz's biography of Rose, The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane, but used it in her research, made me more than a little wary.

For those who don't know, Holz's book puts forward the theory that Rose was really the author of the Little House books, or at the very least a co-author. The book caused a huge uproar among LIW fans, for obvious reasons. I still don't know what I think, and someday I hope to have a chance to examine Laura's original manuscripts, or at least copies of them, to get a feel for what really went on.

But back to A Wilder Rose: first off, as I started reading, I didn't want to stop. As much as it upset me to read a lot of it, it was also fascinating to learn more about Rose. But reading about her relationship with Laura - which was undoubtedly complicated, at best - was incredibly painful for me. Rose was the only child of Laura and Almanzo Wilder to live past infancy, and her parents - moreso her mother - had a very hard time letting go of her. Yet in some ways, Rose and Laura were almost too much alike, only Rose got the freedom and unconventional life that Laura had imagined for herself.

About 2/3 of the way through the book I sort of lost momentum. It seemed to be just repeating the same ideas over and over again: Rose was stuck living at Rocky Ridge, feeling the pressure to look after everyone, even as she took on responsibility for more and more people. She thought that the royalties from Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, and Little House on the Prairie (LIW's contract was originally for three books) would allow her parents to support themselves without financial dependence on her, but she didn't expect there to be eight books that she would spend months rewriting. The theme of Rose's "prison" became very dragging on the book, and I just wanted to tell her to get over herself! Either help or not, but shut up about it! I probably should have been feeling sympathy, but I just got tired of her excuses for why she couldn't possibly change her situation.

I also wish that it had felt a little less like: "this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened..." Despite the interludes where 53-year-old Rose talks about the past decade of her life with a young writer friend (which I actually found distracting) eventually the litany of depression (granted, it takes place during the Great Depression) becomes almost suffocating. She talks about loving John Turner (one of her informally "adopted" sons) but as a reader, I never really saw WHY she did, and I wasn't really sure I saw the expression of that love, either.

In fact many of the characters in the book seem to be underdeveloped. Outside of Rose and Laura, you rarely get a sense of the other characters. We don't understand what they saw in Rose, or what Rose saw in them. One example is Rose's friend "Troub" (AKA Helen Boylston): the author hints at a romantic relationship between the two, but I wish it had been stated conclusively one way or the other. As it is written, it just felt like the author didn't want to make a decision one way or the other.

However, overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in Laura and Rose. While I can't say it is historical fact (the reader has to keep in mind that it is a novel, although I wish that she'd taken a cue from Rose herself and allowed herself more literary freedom to shape the story) it is factual enough to be interesting, and to make me want to explore more about Rose.

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine line walked successfully 31 Aug 2013
By ShelsDreams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
*I received a digital ARC of this via NetGalley*

Susan Wittig Albert undertook a brave task when she decided to write about Rose Wilder Lane, and her role in the creation/editing of the famous Little House books with her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. After all, who wants to mess with a modern-day legend, that of the Pioneer Girl who became famous for her "memoirs"? Even so, Susan's sympathetic treatment of the beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder lessens the sting that might otherwise have spoiled the book for those determined to hang onto the idealization. The book is written from Rose's point of view and in Rose's very unique voice.

This historical novelization is both masterfully written, and fascinating. This has been "can't put it down" reading for me. I found myself looking up and being relieved that we were not in the middle of a dust storm.

And that last sentence brings me to what I was feeling in the most gripping point of this book, where the author (in Rose's voice) is describing the Dust Bowl days in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. I'm a native Texan. I grew up in the Texas Panhandle. I've lived through dust storms (though not as bad as what they had in the 1930's.) But the descriptions in A Wilder Rose bring the Dust Bowl days to grim life, and vividly remind me of how tough the Depression really was. My mother was born in 1932 in the Texas Panhandle, and though she always made light of her childhood, I know it could not have been an easy life, as a member of a pioneer family in the largely (at that time) unsettled Texas Panhandle.

Startlingly, there are a LOT of parallels in Rose's description of the angriness of people about the state of the country then, and the angriness of people about the state of our country now. I found myself not agreeing with Rose's politics, but I had to admire her passionate stance.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet! 29 Aug 2013
By Laura Strathman Hulka aka Readerwoman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
My name is Laura - a name chosen for me not only after a relative, but because my much-older sisters were reading the series (Little House on the Prairie etc.) when I was born. So I have always had a vested interest, so to speak, in the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Susan Wittig Albert is a marvelously prolific, creatively inspirational writer, with a large palette of visionary and beautiful stories always waiting to be told. Her China Bayles herbal mysteries, her Victorian mysteries (written with her husband under the nom de plume Robin Paige,) her Beatrix Potter Cottage Tales and the relatively new series, The Darling Dahlias, all show her remarkable talent and amazing interests. But this newest Albert book breaks unusual ground.

Here, she takes on the story behind the stories. Based on voluminous research, she takes us down seldom trod paths, weaving in the story we know, about Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, with the little-known background stories revolving around her relationship with her only daughter, Rose. The unmentioned contributions Rose made to her parents' lives in Missouri, and to the body of work that became synonymous with Laura is laid out here in A Wilder Rose, and takes us behind the scenes with Rose Wilder Lane, a published author and journalist in her own right.

I am obviously a Susan Wittig Albert fan, having read all her books of the last 20 years, which also include some great non-fiction (Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place; and An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days.) I hope you will do as I did, and read this book with an open mind and an open heart - ready to delve into the complexities of mother/daughter relationships, and the accomplishments of this particular duo. The book will challenge your preconceived ideas about the Little House books, and yet, it will bring you home with a satisfying understanding of book writing, publishing and parenting, yesterday and today.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Depressing Rose 4 Nov 2013
By Ellen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Ellen's Rating: 3.0*

How I got the Book: I received this as an Advanced Readers Copy from NetGalley and the publisher

Format: E-Book

What I liked:
Learning about the rocky relationship between Laura and Rose.
Understanding that the expectations of the parent conflicting with the dreams of the adult child is nothing new.
Seeing Laura move from trying to claim these stories as memoir to understanding "Little House" is historical fiction loved by so many.
To learn about Rose apart from "The Little House" books. I knew she was a journalist and author but had no idea how popular and successful she was in her own right. To see her life, successes and friendships outside of being her mother's daughter.
To see how Rose came to accept, grudgingly, her role as ghostwriter to her mother's memories.
Seeing how agents, editors and publishers work to make a bestseller. Seeing the development of Children's Literature as a publishing genre.
What I didn't like:
The book is very depressing. Yes, Rose suffered from what we would call clinical depression but the story was told from that state.
The country was also changing as a result of the 1929 Stock Market Crash, The Depression and FDR's New Deal programs. Too much emphasis on Rose's politics and frustrations. I get that she was anti-FDR, as were many others in her community, but I felt it was overdone. This is an interesting perspective that does impact the tone of "The Little House" books but could have been handled more evenly
The use of Rose telling her story to a young writer took me out of the story between Rose and Laura. The transitions were distracting to the flow and unnecessary.
Additional Thoughts: While this book was interesting, and I am glad I read it, it should be taken in small bites. I knew of Rose's politics from an earlier piece in The Boston Globe:

[...]

And this eye-opening post from Book Riot blog makes me want to re-read the books as an adult:

[...]

I knew that Susan Wittig Albert is a popular cozy mystery author. After reading this book I felt I needed to read other works by this author to see if the internal darkness that permeates much of this book is part of her style. After reading one, The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Trees, I think her mystery readers will be disappointed.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wilder Rose: Little House fans must read! 26 Nov 2013
By Linda M. Hasselstrom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press, Bertram, TX, 2013

If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books about her pioneer childhood, you should read A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert.

If you are reluctant to believe that Laura’s daughter Rose may have written the books, you must read this novel.

When I was rescued from my existence as the daughter of a divorcee because my mother had married a rancher in western South Dakota, Laura Ingalls Wilder became my guide, my sister and my best friend. I was nine years old when we moved to the ranch and I entered the small-town grade school, a society of rural kids who had known each other since birth and didn’t care for “city kids.” My happiest moments began when the teacher who wrangled five grades in the “lower room” read to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her “Little House on the Prairie.”

Suddenly I could imagine myself living happily ever after among the neighborhood ranching and farming families. My parents made my childhood as educational as possible by buying a cow for me to milk and filling the chicken house with egg-laying hens. At home as at school, we spoke of Laura’s family as if they were neighbors, as indeed they had been on the Dakota prairie a couple of hundred miles east of our home.

With my degree in American Literature, I was teaching and writing professionally before I met scholars of prairie literature who raised doubts that Laura had written her books alone. Some said that Laura’s daughter Rose, a best-selling author in the 1920s and 30s, was deeply involved with creation of the books. Various scholars examined the abundant evidence-- Laura’s other writings, Rose’s writings, their letters to each other—and concluded that Rose had edited Laura’s work extensively, had rewritten it, or perhaps had written it in the first place.

These opinions met considerable resistance. Neither editors nor readers wanted to believe anything that alters our nostalgic image of the housewife seated at her well-scrubbed kitchen table writing masterpieces with pencil in a yellow tablet after gathering eggs and before starting supper on the wood stove.

A Wilder Rose features Rose Wilder Lane telling her story to a writer friend, Norma Lee Browning, allowing Rose to speak for herself. Rose’s words are drawn directly from her letters and diaries. Each element of the novel is founded upon the historical record, including the writings of Laura, Rose, and various writers and editors who shared their lives.

Rose was a successful journalist, magazine writer and world traveler, author of Henry Ford’s Own Story (1917), Diverging Roads (1919), The Making of Herbert Hoover (1920), and The Peaks of Shala (1923) among other books. In 1928, at her mother’s request, she moved from Albania to her parents’ Missouri farm to help the aging couple. She built them a new home and turned the old farm house into a writers’ retreat, often filled with friends from all over the world. Rose’s magazine writing paid the bills for both households—until the stock market crash of 1929. Suddenly writers could hardly find sales in the formerly lucrative magazine market and both Rose and her parents were nearly destitute.

Then Laura wrote an autobiography she called “Pioneer Girl,” more than 300 tablet pages she intended as a book for adult readers. Naturally, she brought the manuscript to her daughter, assuming Rose’s professional connections would ease publication.

Rose was an experienced and well-paid ghost-writer for, among others, Lowell Thomas, a world traveler and broadcaster. Had she known she was going to ghost-write eight novels for her mother, she might have created her usual contract to do so.

Instead, she spent several months creating a coherent story from her mother’s manuscript. Editing and revising, she drew more memories from her mother, but Albert indicates that, so far as is shown by the available documents, Laura never saw the first five chapters of the book. When the editor asked for 25,000 additional words, Rose rewrote the entire book, drawing on Laura’s written vignettes to create additional scenes. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, bearing the name of Laura as author. Meanwhile, Rose wrote Let the Hurricane Roar, a novel also based on her family history, published in 1933. She continued to write and publish her own work throughout the time she worked with her mother’s writing. From Laura’s initial outpouring came the material from which Rose produced subsequent books.

The character Rose, speaking to her friend Norma, considers how this deception evolved. “Would I have felt differently if I had known that this book was only the first of an eight-book series? Would I have asked for recognition and a share of the royalties if I had known that each book would take two or three months away from my writing projects and sap whatever meager store of energy I might have for my own work? Perhaps.”

Because the author draws on Rose’s own words throughout the novel, the conclusion is inescapable.

Susan Wittig Albert’s introductory note to A Wilder Rose clarifies her position on the writing relationship between Laura and Rose:
“I have treated the real people as fictional characters and the real events as fictional events. I have chosen some storylines to expand and dramatize and omitted others. I have put words into people’s mouths and listened in on their internal dialogue. I have invented incidents and imagined settings. In all this, I am exactly as true to the real events, settings, and people of A Wilder Rose as Rose and Laura were to the real events, settings, and people of the Ingalls family’s pioneer wanderings across the American plains. The books they wrote are fictional representations of Laura’s life as a child growing into young womanhood.”

Therefore, the novel’s central question becomes: how will each reader react to realizing that our concept of Laura writing her novels alone is impossible? How will readers who have loved Laura’s stories accept that these two admirable women told lies of commission as well as omission? What justification might exist for the fiction they maintained all their lives?

Albert’s novel is so moving and so convincing in part because her development of the characters of Laura and Rose echoes details true to the character of the prairie people where I grew up and where I live today.

Our relationships with our parents are complex and convoluted. Rose was burdened because, she wrote, she had burned the house down. Her story was that while her mother was ill after the birth and death of Rose’s baby brother, Rose stuffed too much hay into the wood stove and caused a destructive fire. If the story was true, Rose, little more than a baby herself, was already doing the hard work necessary for a prairie life. She knew that actions have consequences and we have to live with them.

I can identify with Rose’s guilt. Growing up on the prairie with parents much like hers, I learned the same lessons early. Even accidents have repercussions and a responsible person acknowledges them and accepts blame if necessary. Guilt is a burden that moves many of us in many directions today, and Rose thrived on it through much of her life. Could she have assumed responsibility for that fire to avert blame from her mother? We will probably never know, but the idea is not impossible.

Rose wonders if her mother thought “that affection somehow ‘spoiled’ a child. That life was real, life was earnest, and too much coddling insulated us from that essential truth, which would shortly be visited upon us by cruel experience.” Similarly, my father often quoted the “life is real” saying while my mother frequently assured me that it was her job to make sure I was not spoiled so I’d be ready for the horrors of real life.

Laura deplored fiction, including the best-selling novels her daughter wrote, but she insisted that her own writing was the truth. Even though I have always written nonfiction, my mother, until she died at 92, never stopped urging me to “get a real job.”

As Rose ponders her mother’s disregard for the life of a professional writer, she wonders, “Do any of us ever outgrow those old childhood hurts, or do they grow and fester in our spirits the whole length of our lives?”

The question might apply to any of us; as Albert has remarked, “the family censor sits on our shoulders, editing our pasts.” I could believe that Rose was so anxious to create a better relationship with her mother that the deception became immaterial. When I found myself publishing a book that contained truths I knew my mother could not accept, I presented her with her own special manuscript copy—from which I had removed anything that would disturb her rosy view of our lives. She loved showing her personal copy to nursing home visitors. “My daughter wrote this,” she would say.

Perhaps as Rose took the written drafts and rewrote them, her mother became immersed in planning the next book. When Rose brought or sent Laura the finished drafts, she might simply have mailed them. Perhaps she convinced herself that the published version was what she had written. Even when my co-editors and I heavily edited manuscripts for our three anthologies of autobiographical writing by Western women (Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind and Crazy Woman Creek), novice writers often told us how pleased they were that we had not changed their words!

And what about some of the editors who had seen Laura’s writing before Rose worked it over? Did they suspect the truth? Perhaps they ignored their suspicious, afraid to lose such popular books.

Still, the Rose of the novel believes that her mother is deeply uneasy. “That was her mother’s way; the more troubled she was about something, the less likely she was to say anything about it to anyone.” Precisely so do the people in my Dakota neighborhood behave today: the more unpleasant the topic, the less likely they are to talk about it. Rose and Laura never discussed their collaboration in public. Likely they never discussed it in private.

I’ve met many writers like Laura, people who enjoy writing as a pastime but cannot take it seriously as a profession. Laura says to her daughter in A Wilder Rose “The more I see of the hours you have to put in, the better satisfied I am to raise chickens. . . . I could never let myself be driven the way you are, Rose.” Albert says the statement is almost a direct quote from a letter Laura wrote to her husband Almanzo from San Francisco in 1915, when she was visiting Rose.

Casual writers are not driven, but real writers must write and they may not be patient with anyone less serious about writing. Wanting to help her mother make an income as Almanzo aged and the farm income dwindled, Rose could have done the familiar work of editing and rewriting as a labor of love or duty without considering the job any different than dozens of others. However, in working for her mother, she didn’t get the payment she so desperately needed.

What would you have done? Or perhaps more directly – since I am a writer whose mother wrote journals and poetry when she was young—what would I have done if my mother had brought me a manuscript to edit for publication?

I would have been flattered; I’d have worked hard to make it publishable. And because she was my mother, I would never have asked credit or payment, assuming that she would treat me fairly.

Albert presents another justification for Rose’s work with her mother’s memories, one I find particularly attractive. Rose’s childhood was lonely and poverty-stricken. Writing her mother’s pioneer childhood as beautiful, abundant and generous might have been a way for Rose to do several things at once. Perhaps she wanted to imagine her parents’ lives as more satisfying; perhaps she wanted to erase her mother’s hardships by writing stories that made it brighter. The novels invent for Rose a mother who loved her as well as provided generously for her well-being. Did she create a happier childhood for herself, as well as for her mother? Did she enjoy creating a marriage partnership unlike her unsatisfactory union?

Every writing is a new challenge, one of the factors that keeps us working at the profession. Rose thinks that “from the day she’d begun professional writing—almost thirty years now—she had always felt that way. Whatever else she was writing—it just wasn’t good enough. It didn’t meet her expectations of what it should have, could have been.” Moreover, she felt each piece of writing completed was her last, that she’d never be able to find another worthy idea. I know no serious writer, including me, who hasn’t wondered the same.

Moreover, many successful writers have had a fallback profession like teaching or selling insurance. Rose was writing furiously in the deepest darkness of the Depression of the 1930s, trying to survive on almost nothing while she helped her aging parents make enough money to live on. She had no insurance against failure, no spouse to support her. So she wrote constantly for money—magazine articles, novels, nonfiction works—anything to create an income.

Albert’s scholarship has convinced me; the novel’s structure allows the reader to understand and empathize with the way Rose was drawn into a collaboration that became a deception. Despite Rose’s fame, she never received credit or financial benefit for the books. Laura got the pride of authorship; Laura got the royalties.

More importantly, Rose convinced me.

I don’t care who wrote the books. Laura’s voice, as Rose interpreted or created it, is still that of my guide and friend. Perhaps Laura’s daughter made the storyteller a better person, helping her say what she could not express herself.

I was also delighted to learn what a very good writer Rose Wilder Lane was; she has much to say to our current political situation. Since her own writings were so much different than those of her mother, she proved her writing skill by creating the voice of the kindly storyteller for her mother’s stories. Few writers are so skilled. Her benevolence created books loved by millions.

Interviewer Lynn Goodwin asked Susan Wittig Albert what advice Rose and Laura might give to aspiring writers. The differences, as Albert sees them, are intriguing.

Rose, says Albert, might say “Write, write write . . . . And be sure to keep a day-to-day diary of your various writing projects . . . to satisfy the curiosity of the researchers who may come along and want to know what you were doing on a particular day.” Such a diary became part of the background for this book.

And Laura? She’d say, “Tell the story you have to tell, as well as you can tell it. . . . And . . . it’s very good to have a daughter who is a professional writer.”

Susan Wittig Albert is the national bestselling author of 50 adult novels and works of nonfiction, as well as more than 60 novels for young adults. She says, “I have a deep admiration for women writers who keep on keeping on through hail and high water. . . . Rose was one of those women.”

She calls this work a labor of love, but notes that when she originally proposed it as narrative nonfiction, editors were enthusiastic about the writing, but worried that Laura’s fans would not be pleased. So Albert chose to take a more direct route, self-publishing through her own Persevero Press. ([...]) As major publishing houses have consolidated and narrowed their focus, this option becomes more and more attractive to authors, even well-known writers with proven records of saleable writing. And this, too, should encourage writers, particularly women, and particularly we who write about sometimes unpopular topics.

See an interview with Susan Wittig Albert and additional information about women writers, at [...]. And for details about the lives of Rose and Laura, including photographs of the homes where they lived while writing, as featured in the novel, see AWilderRoseTheNovel.com

--Linda M. Hasselstrom, windbreakhouse.com, is the author of No Place Like Home: Notes From a Western Life, Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, poetry with Twyla M. Hansen, and others.
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