Filling a gap

Torrey House

Torrey House

We live in a gorgeous spot on a beautiful planet that teeters at a tipping point. Human-caused problems threaten land and sea environments everywhere. Problems like global warming, ocean acidification, and public lands mismanagement. Many of the problems persist because our culture is unaware or uninspired.  There is nothing like story to create awareness and understanding, empathy and passion.  And there is nothing like a book to tell a good story. Books are personal. Books are interactive. Books are demanding. And books are still important. We all can think of a book that left us transformed.  The land, the environment, and our culture need transformative books now more than ever.

Today, no other nonprofit literary press has a dedicated focus on conservation via both fiction and literary nonfiction.  It takes a village to do conservation and a nonprofit literary press like Torrey House Press can fill a gap in the literary ecosystem necessary to create, support, and sustain the village. Torrey House identifies exceptional writers and nurtures their work. We publish diverse voices with transformative stories that illuminate important facets of our ever-changing planet.  We engage collaboratively with conservation non-governmental organizations to identify current conservation issues, match authors to the issues, and create books that support their conservation cause. We work with the book trade, including libraries, bookstores, colleges, and state agencies to promote writers’ works. We sponsor writing workshops and author conferences to bring authors together with citizens, scientists, and activists in order to create and inspire new voices and new works. We employ interns to help develop the change makers of tomorrow. And we do this work with the input and support of a dynamic and diverse board of directors and advisers.

At Torrey House Press, we believe that culture is changed through conversation and that lively contemporary literature is the cutting edge of social change. We believe that by building and engaging community in the conversation of conservation, we make our contribution to, as Wallace Stegner hoped for, a “society to match the scenery” and a scenery that is here to stay.

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Conservation through conversation

The original impetus behind Torrey House Press was the idea that we could promote love of the land through literature. We jumped in with both feet, believing that by publishing great books, our start-up literary press would be self-supporting through book sales. As we realized how difficult it is to sell good or even excellent literary fiction and nonfiction, we fished around for topical titles that were commercial enough to provide adequate sales. Now, in our fifth year, we are finding ourselves in a no-man’s land where our books sales are not sufficient to be self-supporting, which means we are not necessarily achieving our goal of promoting love of the land. The status quo is not working and it is time to embark on a new adventure, a journey into nonprofit land.

Cosmos and wilderness

Cosmos and Wilderness

My son Nick earned a degree a few years ago in Environmental Studies at Prescott College. He now likes to say that I am following in his footsteps. Indeed, in the founding of Torrey House I have been hugely influenced by one of Nick’s college texts, Max Oelschlaeger’s The Idea of Wilderness. My copy’s binding is falling apart from overuse and in my numerous re-readings I have used five different colors of pens to highlight, underline and make notes on perhaps more text than I left alone. In the book’s last chapter, enticingly titled “Cosmos and Wilderness,” Oelschlaeger suggests that we  could be entering a a much needed postmodern wilderness cultural paradigm. He argues that culture is changed through conversation and that philosophy and literature are the cutting edge of conversation.  If we are going to have a new idea of wilderness then “nature’s experiment in humanity” will need some fresh literature. We think that our conversion to a nonprofit will allow us to provide such literature and, we hope, to amplify the conversation.

No matter how many times I encounter them, Oelschlaeger’s ideas in “Cosmos and Wilderness” always seem to slap me awake. He was among the first to suggest that the story of reality is an evolutionary drama, a journey of the entire universe from the Big Bang to the emergence of human self-aware consciousness such that we are now “nature watching nature.”  He submits we can create a new mythos that does not leave us stranded between beliefs and faith that are “divorced from facts” and a scientific materialism that is “value free.” Oelschlaeger contends that in order to ring true in a postmodern age, a new creation story “must have both scientific plausibility and religious distinctiveness.” To recover a sense of value we must see ourselves as natural, sensitive registers created through a process generated by the unfolding of time. We are the product of trillions of stars forming and dying and reforming, creating new elements, iteration by iteration. The reality is that we are created by wilderness and could not exist without it.  We are now in position to reawaken a primordial consciousness, an old one that is newly informed. Earth, our veritable source of life, can be seen as more than a resource to serve human purpose, more than an eco-machine, and more as a sacred process of which we are part and have the ability to stand aware, in awe and reverence. Ideas like these seem to us worthy of amplification.

By converting Torrey House Press to a nonprofit, we will engage new partners, which will allow us to expand our mission and publish books that more closely focus on conservation through the conversation of literature. Stay tuned to these blog pages and you can be a part of the new, exciting philosophy, strategy, and conversation story behind our nonprofit press adventure.

Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Literature and the Environment, Publishing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Considering going nonprofit

Bryce Canyon N.P.

Bryce Canyon N.P., -Mark Bailey

Torrey House was founded on the principle that literature is a primary influence and creator of culture. When Wallace Stegner spoke of creating a  a society to match our scenery in the West he was talking about hope and that when we learn to focus on cooperation, not rugged individualism, we will be able to achieve our potential in full. Given that he was a literary man, he wielded a pen to urge our hope toward cooperation. At Torrey House we hope to carry on that tradition.  The scenery is worth it and we don’t see any other press not on the east coast focused on literature and the land.

The challenge is to sell enough books to make a difference. Selling books takes money. As we enter our fifth year we can see that book sales are only ever going to cover about half of our expenses.  Many if not all of our literary publisher competitors have found this to be true and raise the money necessary to keep going through outside, nonprofit contributions. I had hoped that we could find a niche that would be self supporting, but it doesn’t look like that find is imminent. Torrey House is a publisher with a twin mission. We want to support love of the land and we want to do it through good literature. It turns out that selling books is expensive–we were told that early on–and that we are going to need outside support to sustain our efforts.

We have come to see that with a little more money we could sell more books. With a little more money we could expand our love of the land mission to include more effort on college level environmental humanities programs. With a little more money we could work on expanding what Kirsten calls the almost nonexistent “literary ecosystem” of the Intermountain West.  With a little more money we could add more writer workshops where we might expose writers to the citizen science programs promoted by many of the conservation NGOs like that of  Wild Utah Project and Grand Canyon Trust.  In fact, with a little money and cooperation we could become the de-facto publishing partner to any number of conservation NGOs. We might be able to partner in the direction of adding films to compliment our books. And we would be able, with support and cooperation, to push all of our titles harder and get more copies into readers’ hands where these works can make a difference.

We have more homework to do  to convert Torrey House Press to nonprofit status and it will take a bit of time. If you have sent us a submission to consider you might have to grant us a little more patience than usual before we get back to you. Know that we are working on creating a platform where we can get more great work into a geography of hope fueled by love, passion, understanding and literature to match.

Posted in Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Publishing | Tagged | 2 Comments

NGO’s, authors, booksellers, and why we publish

Torrey House Press:

In which Mark and Kirsten wander the Colorado Plateau and love booksellers, conservationists, and all things Torrey House Press.

Originally posted on Torrey House Press:

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the “lake?”

Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop.  We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.

Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere…

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NGO’s, authors, booksellers, and why we publish

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the

Kirsten at Hite Overlook. See the “lake?”

Kirsten and I drove from Torrey to Durango this week to see Scott Graham’s book launch of Mountain Rampage at Maria’s Bookshop.  We hoped to catch up with Scott and his wife Sue, see Peter and Andrea the owners of Maria’s, visit some of our conservation NGO friends of which there are an abundance in Durango, and see some of the sweetest stretches of the Colorado Plateau that lay along the un-paralleled route from Torrey to Durango via Hite. We did all that and found new inspiration along the way.

Precious, gorgeous, fragile, contested land and the people who love it. This thinly populated landscape attracts and distills out controversy and passion. As Scott Graham said at breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.), people live in Durango because they love the land around it. Jobs are harder to come by and pay less than elsewhere but the land more than makes up for it in lifestyle and soul.  We met Scott and fellow author Chuck Greaves (at Carver Brewing Co.) for dinner the first night before Scott’s reading at Maria’s. Chuck is a guy from New England who practiced law in Los Angeles for 25 some odd years. But he has a homing beacon for the Four Corners area and has been a long time landowner first a second home retreat in the Disappointment Valley area and now permanently in southwest Colorado. Chuck told us an amazing personal tale of finding two human skulls on Cedar Mesa, probably those of local sheepherders, and of the man who murdered them. The murders happened at the same time Everett Reuss disappeared and in a place where there is ample evidence that Reuss visited. I could have listened all night. In fact, Chuck won the grand-prize Storyteller Award and Best Historical Novel in the South West Writers International Writing Contest writing as C. Joseph Greaves for his title Hard Twisted about some of the same.  I am eager to read the now signed copy we picked up at Maria’s.

Just like they did for Canyon SacrificeScott and the folks at Maria’s filled the store with fans again for the launch of our most recent title, Mountain Rampage.  Scott is a gracious, generous man and the town loves him. It doesn’t hurt that his mystery series is a killer read–pun intended.  As Scott read I was leaning against one of those very cool library ladders and looking up and around the store. Hanging from the walls and ceiling are vintage canoes, snowshoes, skis and soon a vintage Sears Roebuck Cruiser bike that Peter Schertz recently scored. Kirsten and I were in this store five years ago right before we started Torrey House and declared we would publish books that belong on such shelves. Now we are gratified to see dozens of our titles there. A big thank you to Maria’s for the support and embrace of Scott and our titles.

At breakfast the next day (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Scott and his wife Sue, Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio, the husband and wife team that owns Maria’s, we learned that Andrea is taking a sabbatical starting in about a week and backpacking 400 miles on the Colorado Trail which winds through the peaks from Durango to Denver. She told Kirsten that no, she is not taking any books and in fact as a true getaway her slogan is “no words.” Have a truly great trip Andrea.

Rose recently stayed with us in Salt Lake while attending the federal trial of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman. Lyman was accused of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles. The Commissioner was found guilty on both counts, the conspiring and the doing, a verdict that brought a sigh of relief to those of us who watched outlaw cowboy Cliven Bundy running around free while conservationist Tim DeChristopher spent two years in federal prison. Rose was involved early in protecting the ancient archaeological sites in Recapture Canyon via her work for The Broads and was gratified to see the wheels of justice turn in a way that actually brought justice. Rose, thanks for your work and thanks to you and Mark for your gracious hospitality while we were in Durango.

Our second night in Durango we joined Tim Peterson and his wife Anna for dinner (at Carver Brewing Co.). Tim is the Utah Wildlands Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust  and brought us up to speed on the progress of Greater Canyonlands and Cedar Mesa toward better federal protection. It sounds like Rob Bishop has bungled his public lands initiative allowing the Utah county commissioners too much leeway to ask outrageous demands or to simply not care and drop out. It always looked like the backwards fear of President Obama creating a Greater Canyonlands was the bargaining chip and motivator for the rural commissioners to come to the bargaining table. Now it appears the momentum might be shifting toward creating a National Conservation Area or National Monument if necessary called the Bears Ears Cultural Landscape on the Cedar Mesa. There is a growing coalition of support for the idea including unprecedented Tribal support and cooperation of 24 Native American Tribes and Pueblos. The Tribal support is amazing news and is easy to imagine will have tremendous national appeal and political support.  Tim has been working diligently and sincerely on the Bishop proposal but it looks like the Republicans sitting across from him are anything but honest and sincere. The Utah Senate recently declared that “the highest and best use” of the Cedar Mesa area is grazing and energy/mineral development. Caveman mentality. Keep fighting the good fight Tim, big monolithic obstacles do fall and in the end progress sweeps the political cavemen aside.

Before we left town on Thursday morning we had breakfast (at Carver Brewing Co.) with Dan Olsen, the Executive Director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a local and effective conservation membership. The Alliance had co-sponsored the reading at Maria’s with us and we were eager to meet Dan and hear what he was thinking about and working on. Dan is another one of these folks who moved to Durango because they wanted to live there and then found a way to put his talents to work to make a living while doing good for the world.  His forte by experience and education is about making organizational and social change happen. Dan says that while he is not confrontational by nature he knows that sometimes to make change happen for the good and to protect the environment the outcome cannot always be win-win. Sometimes the big extractors have to be forced to stop or to pay for the damage and pollution they cause. He frequently writes columns for The Durango Herald including a recent one titled “Change requires becoming unreasonable.”  I really like this guy and we will be keeping an eye on him.

Finally, on the way back to Torrey we sat down for coffee and ice cream with Kathryn (Kat) Wilder in Dolores (and not at Carver Brewing Co.). Kat and her friend TJ Holmes both graciously traveled to Scott’s reading and both are passionate activists for the wild Mustang herds in the area. TJ is a wonderful wildlife photographer and blogs almost daily about the Mustangs. Wild horses are an issue that Torrey House is very interested in and it was great to get a little education from someone with her boots on the ground.  We look forward to more of such spirited conversations soon with Kat.

We drove home the rest of the way to Torrey wowed, tired and inspired. This delicate, exquisite landscape is ours to revere or ours to wreck. Right now with Republicans on the rampage public lands are again under assault. The land is being managed by the people the land needs protection from and is in grave danger of being sold to the highest bidder. Maybe we can do something via the power of pen and story to help protect what we have while we still have it.

And for those of you not counting that was four times at Carver Brewing Co. in two days. Just the way I like it. Kirsten, you can lower that eyebrow now.

-Mark Bailey, May 22, 2015, Durango.

Posted in Conservation, Environment, Independent Bookstores, Literature and the Environment, Public land management | 4 Comments

Pill in the hamburger

See what I mean by pill? ( photo credit

See what I mean by pill? ( photo credit

Last October, while Kirsten and I were on the road peddling our Torrey House wares, we were walking down the streets of Taos, straight into the setting sun, looking for a place to have dinner. A stranger was walking toward us, backlit by the sun, and starting to wave us down. Oh brother, I thought, here comes something awkward. To the complete contrary, it was our friend and the son of my previous business partner, Soren Jespersen. Soren was out doing his work for The Wilderness Society and it was not the first time we had crossed paths with him while out in the West. He works hard too.

We talked Soren into giving up his solitude for the evening and joining us for dinner. In catching him up with Torrey House I mentioned, as an example of something we would like to publish, Kevin Fedarko’s The Emerald Mile (at Indiebound here). The subtitle of the book is “The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.”  Not only was this a story about the fastest ride in the highest water but it was about one done in a wooden dory similar to the boats John Wesley Powell used when he was the first to run the river through the canyon in the summer of 1869. It is an enticing promise of adventure and Fedarko delivers the goods. But in the meanwhile, you learn the natural history of the river, the hard fought battles to keep from damming the Grand Canyon, and the realization too late by David Brower of the Sierra Club and others of what was going to be drowned and lost under water in Glen Canyon. Today, you realize, the Colorado River does not even make it to the sea and the now arid delta at the Sea of Cortez.

“Right,” Soren said, “I get it. It is the pill in the hamburger.” Not being a dog guy it took me a second, but yes, it is the pill in the hamburger. The question is how to get folks to become aware enough of our precious natural lands that they are willing to do something, at least vote accordingly, about protecting what we have left. Let’s give them a fat hamburger and sneak in a pill.

At Torrey House we try to do that with all of our titles. Some quick examples are the Nevada pipeline water wars that serve as a back drop in Jana Richman’s The Ordinary Truth, about how the fragile Mojave Desert and the sacred lands of the Chemehuevi Indians are ironically threatened by big corporate wind farms in Mary Sojourner’s 29, and the struggle between ranching and the New West in Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road.

We are constantly on the lookout for good ideas with a story and that support Love of the Land.  Let us know what yours are.


Posted in Book Review, Conservation, Environment, Literature and the Environment, Nature Writing, Public land management, THP Blog, topical nonfiction, West | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Bad Romance?

Torrey House Press:

THP is leaning toward creating some works on wild horses. Here Kirsten takes a first look.

Originally posted on Committed to the Quest:

Cliven Bundy rides his horse waving the American flag. He’s a Fox News hero who refused to pay fees and fines for illegally grazing his cows on federal lands for 20 years and then participated in an armed standoff with law enforcement, a frightening and fraught encounter for which he’s never been charged.  He’s a cowboy hero, an icon of the rugged individualist, a living piece of the American Dream. Though he fell off his pedestal by blathering racism in the media’s glare, he still commands a lot of sympathy either consciously with right-wing rurals or, worse, unconsciously in the minds of everybody who wants to be, or at least preserve, the American cowboy.

And who doesn’t love the dashing vision of a cowboy, tall in the saddle on his handsome horse, splashes through a sunlit stream as he herds those little dogies along? Methinks, perhaps, the 80 percent of…

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