Book Tour Swings East

Last weekend I traveled east to speak and promote Almost Pioneers.

The first stop was Kirtland, Ohio, to the northwest of Cleveland.  There, Lakeland Community College sponsors the Western Reserve Spring Writer’s Conference.  Its tireless organizer and promoter, Deanna Adams, had invited me to speak about historical research and writing.  I had attended the fall Western Reserve Writer’s Conference in 2011, and I credit what I learned there with enabling me to get an agent and a publisher for Almost Pioneers.  So Saturday morning, I had a wonderful time talking to writers about frameworks for thinking about history and sources that are helpful for researchers.  Many thanks to Dee for the invitation.

On Monday, I spoke at my alma mater, Geneva College, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.  Beaver Falls is about an hour northwest of Pittsburgh in the Beaver Valley, and Geneva’s campus is beautiful even in March when there are no leaves on the trees.  Tom Copeland, a fellow classmate of the class of 1991, invited me to give a book talk.  It was great to see two of my history professors, David Wollman and Jim Sterrett, and Kae Kirkwood, who I worked for in the library.  My parents, Charlie and Joan Fry, were also able to attend.

Thanks to all who came.


Greetings. Thanks for visiting my website, dedicated to Almost Pioneers, a non-fiction historical memoir written by Laura Gibson Smith and edited by me. It was released August 1, 2013.

In the fall of 1913, Laura and Earle Smith, a young Iowa couple, made the gutsy—some might say foolhardy—decision to homestead in Wyoming. There, they built their first house, a claim shanty half dug out of the ground, hauled every drop of their water from a spring over a half-mile away, and fought off rattlesnakes and boredom on a daily basis.

Soon, other families moved to nearby homesteads, and the Smiths built a house closer to those neighbors. The growing community built its first public schoolhouse and celebrated the Fourth of July together—although the festivities were cut short because of snow.

By 1917, however, the Smiths had moved back to Iowa, leasing their land to a local rancher and using the proceeds to fund Earle’s study of law. The Smiths lived in Iowa for most of the rest of their lives, and sometime after the mid-1930s, Laura wrote this clear, vivid, witty, and self-deprecating memoir of their time in Wyoming, a book that captures the pioneer spirit of the era and of the building of community against daunting odds.

I edited Laura’s manuscript and wrote an afterword to explain what it tells us about the history of Wyoming, of the American West, and of the United States. Thanks for your support.

Western Hospitality

Traveled to Colorado and Wyoming last week to spend some time talking about Almost Pioneers with three different age groups of people in three different places:

Denver, Thursday afternoon:  Talked with two sections of Mr. Timmer’s American History course at Denver Christian High School.  Had a good time thinking with the students about what historical figure they would have lunch with if given a chance, reviewing westward expansion, and talking about Almost Pioneers.  Thanks to James Timmer and to Principal Steve Kortenhoeven for hosting me.

Cheyenne, Thursday night:  Delivered a public lecture to about 60 adults at the Wyoming State Museum in an event that was part of the Museum’s Fall Lecture Series.  Lots of excellent questions after the lecture about Laura and Earle, homesteading in the 1910s, and getting the book published.  Many thanks to the State Museum Volunteers for generously funding my trip to town.  Thanks to Nathan Doerr, Mark Brammer and his wife Katy, and Mike and the other volunteers who made the event a success.

Laramie, Friday morning:  Spoke to about 100 college students in Phil Roberts’s History of Wyoming course at the University of Wyoming.  They had already read Almost Pioneers and some came with questions about the Smiths’ story, historical research, and what I learned from editing the book.  Some even had me sign their copy.  Thanks to Phil for adopting the book for his course and for having me in the class.

Phil Roberts and me at the University of Wyoming Bookstore book signing event

Phil Roberts and me at the University of Wyoming Bookstore book signing event

Laramie, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning:  Signed books with other Wyoming authors at the University of Wyoming Bookstore.  It was homecoming at UW, so many alumni were looking for Cowboys clothing and other merchandise.  But some were interested in reading material.  It was great to see Clyde and Frances Caster and Ruth Vaughn—Clyde and Ruth are grandchildren of Luther and Ethel Caster from Almost Pioneers—on Saturday morning.  Also had a nice time jawing with Starley Talbott and Linda Fabian of the Wyoming State Historical Society (I became a member).  Thanks to A. J. Hofmann for taking care of all the local arrangements.

Clyde Caster and Ruth Vaughn at the book signing event

Clyde Caster and Ruth Vaughn at the book signing event

Also featured on the trip:  The hospitality of Don and Wendy Griffin (parents of Trinity student Jane Griffin) in Parker, CO; treacherous driving on I-80 between Buford and Laramie; an excellent lunch with Phil Roberts and Michael Brose, chair of the history department at UW; and a brief interview with Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio to be packaged for future broadcast.

Still, it was wonderful to get home to Blue Island and my family:  Paula, Deborah, Stephen, Benjamin, and Daniel.  Many thanks to them for allowing me to take the trip.

Book Tour – Iowa

At the end of last week, I traveled to Iowa to talk about the book.  I’m very grateful to my family for allowing me to abandon them for three days, and to my institution, Trinity Christian College, for funding the trip.  Highlights in the form of a top ten list (not in any strict order):

10 – Book talk at Coralville Public Library, Thursday night, September 19.  Unfortunately, a storm had gone through a half hour before I was scheduled to talk and taken out the power to the entire neighborhood.  I did the talk under an emergency light and had a good time discussing the book with people afterwards.  I also sold a few books.  The signs advertising the talk had said “Enjoy a Pioneer Evening with John Fry.”  All we needed were some kerosene lamps.  Thanks to Laura Crossett of CPL for setting things up.

9 – Dinner with Karen Mason, Matt Schaeffer, and Laura Crossett before the CPL event.  Karen is the curator of the Iowa Women’s Archives.  Matt (her husband) is an archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.  Laura is Adult Services Coordinator at Coralville Public Library.  We ate at a neat restaurant in Coralville called Vesta.  I had the Iowa Elk stroganoff; I didn’t know they raised Elk in Iowa before this.

8 – Visiting with Jeff Cox and Jacki Rand, professors in the History Department at the University of Iowa.  I graduated from the U of I with a Ph. D. in History in 2002.  I hadn’t seen Jeff or Jacki for at least five years.  It was nice to catch up on what they’ve been doing.

7 – “Life after Schaeffer Hall” sponsored by the Graduate History Society of the University of Iowa on September 20.  This event brought me back to speak with current graduate students about what I had been doing for the last eleven years.  Had an excellent talk with those who came.  Thanks to Angela Keysor and Stephen Vlastos for providing this opportunity.

6 – Staying with Greg and Nancy Skubal at their farm near Ainsworth, Iowa.  It was great to see their kids, catch up with them and with Rob and Dorcas Jarrard, and to just be in the country for a while.  They also gave me a box full of tomatoes for my wife and I to turn into sauce.

5 – Stopping in Pella, Iowa, on my way to Des Moines on Saturday morning, September 21.  I got to have coffee with two Trinity Christian College alumni, Collin Barnes and Stephen Henderson.  They both teach at Pella Christian Middle School.  Stephen now has his master’s degree in history and is teaching a course at Des Moines Area Community College.  He and his wife have two kids and Collin’s wife is expecting their first in a couple months.  It was great to see two Trinity history majors doing so well.

4 – Meeting Mary Vander Leest at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines on Saturday afternoon.  Mary is the granddaughter of Luther and Ethel Caster, who were neighbors of the Smiths in Wyoming.  Luther and Ethel had seven kids, so there are a lot of Caster relatives spread across the country.  A number have contacted me to say that they’ve enjoyed the book and they’re spreading the word about it.  Mary lives about an hour from Des Moines and she came down to hear me speak and have me sign some copies.

Mary Vander Leest and John Fry

Mary Vander Leest and me at Beaverdale Books, 21 September 2013

3 – Book Talk at Beaverdale Books.  Got to see two friends from the church my family attended when I taught at Simpson College in central Iowa.  It was a small group, but we had a good talk together.  Beaverdale sold some books and I signed them.  Thanks to Alice Meyer for allowing me to come.

2 – Iowa Public Radio interview on “Talk of Iowa” with Charity Nebbe, Thursday morning at 10:00.  This was actually recorded on Tuesday afternoon when I was still in Chicago.  Karen Mason and I got an hour to talk about Almost Pioneers and the Iowa Women’s Archives.  Thanks to Charity and Dennis Reese for making things easy on us radio newbies.

1 – Book talk at the Iowa Women’s Archives in the Main Library at the University of Iowa, Friday morning.  Several dozen people came:  some from the history department, some from among the staff of the library, and some from the community.  I got some excellent questions from the audience and sold and signed more books.  Thanks to Karen and her staff for making me feel so welcome.

Karen Mason and John Fry

Karen Mason and me at the Iowa Women’s Archives, 20 September 2013

I get to go to Wyoming next month.  It’s a real treat.