Says Bass: David and I both feel this is a critical story. We’re depicting a war against the world we live in, the world that either will or will not ultimately sustain us. At this stage of our lives, novel-writing is incredibly important to us, but we could not say No when asked to engage on this issue. I gave up a season of bird hunting in eastern Montana, and David gave up a season of steelhead fishing, though we have built our lives around making space in the autumn for these passions.
The book was a steep learning curve for me. I had to shift from my long-time efforts to help protect wilderness areas in a little million-acre valley in Northwest Montana—the Yaak —to a story with global implications. The Heart of the Monster isn’t just about Idaho and Montana. It’s about corporate power in America, about salmon and grizzlies and species extinction, about A.B. Guthrie’s and Ivan Doig’s Big Sky, about quality of life. It’s a story that pits irreversible global warming versus the integrity of wilderness, the Columbia River Gorge versus ExxonMobil, community integrity versus corporate power, and the politics of money versus those of heart and will. We depict what climatologist James Hansen calls “an intergenerational injustice.” We depict a struggle that is being fought by the tribes, at the city council level (when they try to come through Missoula), at the motorcycle club level, and by anglers, hunters, bicyclists, birders, tea partiers, Buddha-garden folks, Fairfield farmers, ironworkers and regional commercial truckers (whose routes will be clotted by Exxon’s), and on and on.
Says Duncan: Suzie Estep (of Missoula) and her sister Trish Webber (of Corvallis, Oregon) called together a ragtag group of people who were highly disgruntled at the prospect of the Heavy Haul. Being fond of ragtagism (sic) and feeling far from gruntled (does gruntled mean “happy” since digruntled means unhappy?) I attended an early meeting. At that meeting the group asked me to write some kind of rabble-rousing protest essay, as I did when we were fighting cyanide heap leach goldmines and saving the Blackfoot River.Thinking it over, I figured a short book, in an edition of, say, 5000, would be more effective than a mere magazine article because it could be much more free-swinging and uncensored. I could go long if needed, and we could target a specific strategic audience. But I felt unable to even remotely handle such a task unless I had a ridiculous amount of help.So, as it says in the preface of our book, I made outrageous demands, asking Trish and Suzie to hire Rick to cover Montana, Steven Hawley (author of the forthcoming Beacon Press book Recovering a Lost River) to handle the investigative research, Frederic Ohringer to handle the photography, and Ian Boyden of Crab Quill Press in Walla Walla to handle the book design. I figured that would be that. TOO MANY DEMANDS. SCREW IT.
But Trish and Suzie meanwhile had formed All Against the Haul.
It has been difficult, but also surprisingly fun, working with so many talented people. Several donors have been generous. EVERYBODY has outperformed. More help keeps coming in. The 5,000 books are printed and ready to ship as I speak. My team might even get paid the pittance for which I asked!
Says Bass: Writers have done this kind of work before.
•Many writers engaged in the citizen’s initiative that stopped cyanide heap-leach gold-mining in Montana. David’s New York Times op ed and Sierra Magazine essay were hugely influential in shaping that story, clarifying for the state what was at stake.
•The Clark Fork Coalition published an anthology about the watershed that served as a unifying force and resulted in the removal of a dangerous dam at the mouth of the famed Big Blackfoot River. So there is a tradition of books making a difference in policy.
That said, The Heart of the Monster is unique in that, due to the importance of a timely response, we chose to self-publish the first 5000 copies through All Against the Haul. We’ll rely heavily on our website, direct mail, and the generous attention of independent booksellers. We will also be seeking to develop special markets by contacting the Outdoor Retailers’ Association. Patagonia is already an enthusiastic partner in getting the book published.
The book’s genesis was also unique: David and I met twice at his house and once at Scotty’s Table to talk about the book. We assigned the territory—David would cover the ground from Portland to Lolo Pass, and I would cover from Lolo Pass to the Canadian border. We trusted the two pieces would mesh. I knew David was going to write a best-heart’s case and I knew I wanted to try fiction, along the lines of All the King’s Men. We never talked about Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but when I saw Frederic Ohringer’s photographs, that is what came to mind.
Our goal was to help frame the story before millions of dollars from Exxon and Imperial began flooding the airwaves with homey anecdotes about “loaning a neighbor a cup of sugar,” when they are in fact imposing a catastrophe upon the atmosphere and the world. From a literary standpoint, the speed of our response is notable. Steve Hawley knocked himself out on the research. Ian Boyden worked brutal hours to design the book in less than a week. And our editor, Camille Hykes, edited 250 pages in 72 hours.
We believe The Heart of the Monster, with your help, can make a crucial difference. We might not be able to shut the tar sands down (it is the largest industrial project in the world) but we can defend our home against the biggest company in the world, and we can do it without money. Corporate money is all but useless when it attempts to break the love and guardianship people feel toward still-beautiful places in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
Though they hardly need introductions here, Rick Bass is an author, essayist and activist whose short stories have been selected for numerous prizes and whose more than 20 books include his National Book Critics Circle Award-winning autobiography Why I Came West (2008) and, most recently, his novel Nashville Chrome, which appears on the Short List of the Best Books of 2010 from the independent booksellers of the Northwest. David James Duncan is an author, essayist and fly fisher who has been honored three times with Book Awards from the booksellers of the Northwest (for God Laughs and Plays in 2007; The Brothers K in 1993 and The River Why in 1984).