Folks, please welcome back author and veteran Bill Stokes today. As some of you probably already know, Bill’s grandson, Paul Stokes, is running an Indiegogo Campaign to fund turning more of Bill’s books into audiobooks. Paul and Bill are offering up 1 Audible.com/Audible.UK copy of each of Bill’s published audiobooks in a giveaway. You can read more about the giveaway at the end of the post. Now, on to the interview!
Why trout fishing as opposed to other kinds of fishing?
Maybe it goes as deep as the DNA that is in all of us from the first creatures that crawled out of the water. There is something about standing waist-deep in a river and feeling the current around your legs while your brain tries to focus on capturing something out of that river that will satisfy your urge to be a predator. In that regard, as much as “catch-and-release” has become the anthem of sport fishing, I have never been comfortable with it. It seems to me like playing with death, like playing god in a way that was never intended. Also trout are damn good eating. As John Voelker—author of “Trout Madness” and “Anatomy of a Murder,” put it, a big draw is in the environs of trout—the act of putting yourself in wilderness settings away from all the trappings of modern life and alone with the flora and the fauna, exemplified by such simple beauty as a doe and her fawns easing out onto the sandbar up by the thick tamarack, or the scowling eagle that swoops down off the big dead birch and curses you with its piercing chirps. These are the good places in the world, and it is always worth the effort to go to them. Other kinds of fishing have their appeal but they are different and muted, depending way too much on such things as a 300 horsepower outboard.
Is there a genre or literary niche that you feel hasn’t gotten its deserved attention?
That would sure not be trout fishing: since way back in the days of Izaak Walton there has probably been more written about trout fishing than, well, not baseball, but certainly tennis or rock climbing. My book-shelves sag with volumes of attempts to improve trout fishing techniques, analyze casting styles, introduction of insects and the duplication thereof. That, of course, is a biggie, that “duplication,” otherwise known as fly tying. A corner of my “work” place looks as if a great and endless stampede of most of the creatures from Noah’s ark crashed into it years ago and not much has been done to neaten things up. And there is a continuous flow of “improved” ways to make a grasshopper or a mayfly, all of which puts a trout fisherman in front of his fly tying vise where for long moments—hours, he can remember and dream and get himself a little bit out there on the river even though he never leaves home.
Nothing really pops into my mind as a literature genre that has not received its due. I am constantly overwhelmed by the thousands of books, articles etc. that are produced. There has to be an awesome readership out there that eats up all the various products. Like every unfulfilled author before me, I am convinced that the system is rigged and biased and dumb because it has not seen fit to publish “Margaret’s War,” the great American novel that I have poured my heart into for so long. Some Day!
As a journalist, and also, I guess, for personal reasons, I have not been much of a joiner and so other than supporting Trout Unlimited and donating to natural resource organizations there isn’t much there. I was briefly on the Ice Age Trail Foundation Board, and gave financial support to establishment of the Wolf Run Trail along the Black Earth Creek near Mazomanie. I greatly admire the volunteers who do so much in actual hands-on and material support to all kinds of conservation efforts. They speak to the deep respect within most of us for our natural surroundings, most of which are under constant threat by those among us who choose not to rein in greed.
It is time for you to host the book club: Who do you invite (living, dead, fictional, real) and what books will you be discussing?
I think I would just invite Mark Twain and we would talk about his books, and, as a writer, I would ask him about a few places where he wrote some stuff that was hard for me to accept—like Tom’s physical accomplishments on an occasion or two. And then I would listen to him tell me how much fun he must have had writing the wonderful stories that people so loved. How did he do that? We would talk about God, and we would laugh like hell about Him, not at Him, but about Him and how He has the world by the short hair and what that means in terms of civilized behavior.
Of course, I’d like to talk to Hemingway and ask him how better to comply with his advice when he said, “Don’t tell too much.”
Harper Lee should come to the meeting. And she should bring Scout and Atticus.
What decade from the last 100 years would you pick to have been a teenager in?
The one I was in—the 1940’s was pretty damn good. It was dominated by the insanity of war and god-awful things happened on a daily basis. The problem for me was being too young to qualify for any of the heroics, but since that later formed the basis for “Margaret’s War,” I can live with that. I think the second decade—1910 would have been interesting if for nothing more than to see the Model T Ford scare the bjesus out of the poor horses on the road at the time. That was a big transitional time, and in a way it was still going on into my generation: my dad had horses on the farm, but he also, of course, had a tractor, albeit one with steel wheels.
What books would you like to have with you on a desert island?
On my old library shelves are the Encyclopedia Britannica’s. I haven’t looked at any of them since the advent of the internet, but I cannot bring myself to throw them away. And since I will not have a computer in the desert island, I want the Britannicas. Would also like the Twain collection. And my dad used to read pulp westerns, I’d like a stack of those.
Some say journalistic and outdoor skills are becoming less important in our world of internet and factory farms. Have you had the opportunity to pass your skills on to others?
Everyone should know that in order to get a hamburger, you have to kill a cow, and somebody has to do it. I’ve preached that forever. I think my descendants learned that without my help, and some have adjusted their lives accordingly. I also see signs of interest and talent in creative stuff among the clan members, and that is very gratifying. Whether or not I had a hand in any of this is not important. I really hope all of them so inclined pursue these interests. It indicates a healthy curiosity about themselves and the life around them.
I cannot really say, but the first book I remember was “Black Beauty,” which my mother read to us around the old cook stove on winter evenings. I still have vivid images of that scene in my cluttered mind. Sometimes Mom would fall asleep while reading and we would have to wake her up.
Your previously published works have recently been and are being republished in several formats, including audiobook. Are you working on some new stories that you plan to publish?
All the things that Paul has done recently to revive some of my work has been the most exciting thing to happen in my life for years. I am most grateful. My writer’s ego always caused me to think perhaps some of the stuff deserved more than a one-day newspaper shelf life, or another look when books were involved by publishers who either went broke or sold out. Now Paul has made that a possibility. I have no idea what might happen, and I don’t know that Paul does. But, damn, we’re blowing the dust off a lot of things and I love it.
I have any number of projects I am working on, or have plans for: I would like to do something with my friendship with Bob Shephard, my Black Chicago friend who did so much to enrich my life and my family’s life. From the time I saw him on that snowy Korea hillside through the years with the Tribune, he was there as a most treasured companion.
I have a baseball story in the works, including such as Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, Bill Veeck, etc. This is partially written but needs time and attention.
Then, of course, there is “Margaret’s War” which is my baby, and which has been professionally edited (Jacquelyn Mitchard—Author of “Deep End of the Ocean” and to whom I paid $3600 to edit and advise). She was very laudatory about the writing and had promised marketing help but dropped me when I resisted making some changes she suggested and which I thought were not right. Have some very positive reviews from, among others, a UW emeritus professor of writing. I resist self-publishing and since I have only made feeble efforts toward the structured book world, nothing is happening. I want this novel to see the light of day while I can still see the light of day, and with Paul’s help maybe we can get that done.
There are some other things I want to write, and given the calendar, I had better get off my ass and get with the program. Paul will help with that, I know! He’s tough!
Born in Barron, Wisconsin, on September 11, 1931, Bill Stokes grew up on a small dairy farm between Barron and Rice Lake. He began his official writing career as an outdoor writer and general reporter for the Stevens Point Daily Journal, where he served as columnist, reporter and outdoor writer. In 1961 he moved to the Wisconsin State Journal, in Madison, where he wrote outdoor and personal columns, some of which were collected in a book “Ship The Kids On Ahead.” (added by Bill Stokes). In 1969, the Milwaukee Journal became his venue and as a feature writer and columnist, and he found new ground to cover in 1982 at the Chicago Tribune. After 11 years there, Bill retired to pursue free-lance projects.
During his long journalism career, Bill won many conservation awards, including the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award from Scripps-Howard News Service in 1972. His work has appeared in many national publications, among them Readers Digest, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield. He has compiled three anthologies of his newspaper writing and authored two children’s books.
Bill has lived on Madison’s west side since 1959, a home he shares with his wife, Betty. They have a 45-acre “back 40” on a trout stream near Westfield, where Bill engages in his hobbies of trout fishing, photography, bicycling and grandfathering. They have five grown children and 12 grandchildren. Bill and Betty also enjoy traveling.
Places to Connect with Bill Stokes
Info on the 2 Audiobooks by Famous Outdoor Writer Bill Stokes Campaign
Wisconsin’s most famous outdoor writer, veteran and avid fisherman, Bill Stokes recently republished his 1968 collection of anecdotal short stories, Ship the Kids on Ahead, in print, eBook and audiobook. Now Bill wants to make more of his work available in digital audio format to reach an even greater audience. Audiobooks are expensive to create and backers like YOU can help offset the cost to bring these stories back to life and make his dream a reality.
“Hi-Ho Silver, Anyway” is estimated to be around 13 hours, “Trout Friends and Other Riff-raff” is estimated to be around 5 hours long. We are so excited to have successfully produced the first audiobook “Ship the Kids on Ahead” and we’re so excited to continue to bring my grandfather’s words to life but we need YOUR help! We have already brought a few of Bill’s short stories to the audio format, including “A Haunting Tale“, and “To Shoot a Musky“.
The Stokes are giving away 1 audiobook copy of each currently published work by Bill Stokes (Ship the Kids On Ahead, A Haunting Tale, and To Shoot A Musky) to 1 winner. The winner can choose Audible.com or Auible.UK. You can do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer these questions in the comments: 1) Do you have an Audible.com or Audible.UK account? 2) Have you ever been fishing? 3) Hop over to the Indiegogo campaign page and share the event on social media some place. Then post the link to where you shared it in the comments. Giveaway ends January 8, 2017 midnight my time.