When I devoured the Laura Ingalls Wilder as a young girl, I was fascinated
with her ability to make a prairie Iíd never seen come alive. I searched for the
sunsets she described, and I wondered if Tracy, California would bear any
resemblance to the Tracy that the train took the family to in By the Shores of
Silver Lake. The author painted pictures with words and I hungered for the
places and people I met in her stories. I was in love with her imagery long
before I knew what imagery was. I read the books so many times I practically
had them memorized. Susan Albert, the author of A Wilder Rose, also read and
reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a girl.
There is a ninth book in the series that was published after her death. I found
it when I was a beginning teacher with classes of seventh and eighth graders
in a small farming community. It was not as rich as the previous eight books,
and I attributed that to the fact that it was a draft. I saw the value of
rewrites. A note on the flap said she lost interest when Almanzo passed away.
When Albert read the ninth book, she saw it as ďÖ clumsy, amateurish, and
simply not in the same class as the rest of the series.Ē She knew Lauraís
daughter, Rose, was a professional author and wondered ďwhat role Rose had
played in the writing of her motherís books.Ē Albert is a researcher by nature.
She collected information about the two women, their work, and their
relationship for years, as she explains in the interview. In this story told
mostly in Roseís point of view, Albert shares a fictionalized version of her
research, revealing truths that never emerged in the Little House series.
Albert is a skilled author of over 100 books. She captures Roseís voice
beautifully as she blends fact and fiction in A Wilder Rose. She gives us
important insights into the worlds of collaboration and storytelling, as well as
recreating the feel of the time and Roseís incredibly descriptive voice. Fans of
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and writers everywhere should read
this book. Itís a revealing behind-the-scenes look that makes me wonder how
much of a writerís life the public ever really knows. In this interview, Albert
talks about her background, writing process and personal discoveries as she
wrote this book.
LG: Tell us about your own background as a writer and a ghostwriter.
SA: I began my career as a writer when I was still in my teens, writing young
adult magazine fiction. College and grad school led to an academic
career-and several textbooks and academic books in my field, medieval literary and literary theory. In the mid-1980s, I left the university and began
my commercial writing career in young adult series.
While about a third of my work was original, many of the 60+ novels I produced (alone or with my husband, Bill Albert) were written under series
pseudonyms, such as Carolyn Keene, Franklin W. Dixon, Francine Pascal.
I moved into genre fiction-mysteries-and nonfiction in the early 1990s. Iíve written 50+ books since then, all of them original work, some of them
bestsellers. Bill and I coauthored a dozen Victorian/Edwardian mysteries-so I think I know a little something about team writing.
LG: Very true. What first drew you to Rose Wilder Laneís story and what led you to this research?
SA: The eight Little House books, written under the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder and published by Harper, were my favorite books when I was a kid. I
read them over and over.
In the early 1970s, when I was in grad school, I read what Harper called ďthe ninth book.Ē It was a shocker: clumsy, amateurish, and simply not in the
same class as the rest of the series. In the introduction to the book, I read that Laura had a daughter, Rose Wilder Lane-and that Rose had been a
bestselling writer in the 1920s and 30s. I had to wonder what role Rose had played in the writing of her motherís books, so I began to collect her
books and articles and find out as much about her as I could.
The research trail led to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, where her papers are archived, and to an acquaintance with her biographer, William
LG: Why do you think Rose Wilder Laneís voice in Let the Hurricane Roar is less immediate than the one in the Little House books?
SA: The voice of the Little House books (the voice Rose created) is the voice of a storyteller who is speaking (not writing-it is an oral voice) to a
group of listening children gathered around her. It is a warm, easy, and comfortable voice, with a vocabulary and syntax perfectly suited to children
who are the age of the child-character, Laura. The speaker-listener relationship is close and immediate. This is why these books are so beautifully
suited to reading aloud, as many parents know.
But thatís not the voice of Roseís Hurricane. Thatís the voice of an author who is writing the story for adult readers, in adult language, with an adult
vocabulary and much more complex syntax. Hurricane is a book that we read with our eyes. It isnít easily read aloud. The writer is in one place, the
reader in another-not in the same space (as in the Little House books). That translates to a formal distance between the writer and reader. And
thatís why it seems to lack ďimmediacy.Ē
LG: Thatís very insightful. Can you briefly explain how you blended fact and fiction in this book?
SA: Writing fact-based fiction is a challenge. The time, place, circumstances, events, and the characters are already factually established-they
happened, and you canít change that (unless youíre writing an alternate history). I start with the facts first, then try to read between the facts to
find the motivations, the impulses, the subtexts, the hidden conflicts, the unspoken thoughts and emotions. Thereís a lot of interpretation in this
search, and a great deal of fiction in the final product. But I can only fictionalize and interpret so far as the facts will allow.
When I first began writing A Wilder Rose, I was stuck for a long time on the question of how to tell it. It had to be from Roseís point of view, because
Laura left so little trace of her inner life. But how to begin the story-and where to end it? The story came unstuck (if I can put it that way) when I
thought of Rose actually telling the story to Norma Lee Browning, her young friend and writing student. That gave me a frame for the narrative. And it
gave me a voice: Roseís story-telling voice.
LG: How did Rose make her motherís story so loving when there were so many issues between them?
SA: Rose was a professional writer who was used to working with difficult ghostwriting jobs-like the five (maybe six?) books she wrote for Lowell
Thomas in 1932 and 1933, at the same time she was working on the first three books of the Little House series. She simply took her motherís drafts
and rewrote them, just as you (Lynn) would take a manuscript from a less accomplished writer and rewrite it for publication.
The two women didnít work together, except in a limited way, in a few limited instances. (Beginning with Book 4, for instance, they only worked by
letter, not face-to-face.) Rose worked alone on each manuscript, essentially, rather than with her mother. When she was finished with her rewrites,
she gave or sent the manuscripts to her mother, who submitted them as Rose had written them. Their relationship issues just didnít seep into the
books, because (for the most part) the production of the books lay outside their relationship.
LG: That makes sense. They were about a time before Rose was born. How do you think the two women would feel about your book?
SA: How would they feel about A Wilder Rose? Laura would sniff disdainfully and say ďItís only fiction-and we know what fiction isĒ (Thatís essentially
what she wrote to the De Smet newspaper editor about Roseís bestselling novels). Rose would likely be offended at my intrusions into her privacy,
although I believe (or perhaps I hope) that she would honor my intention and my effort to understand her.
LG: Helen ďTroubĒ Boylston seemed like an exceptional friend. Is there any indication they were more than "just friends" or did their tight bond exist
because of their mutual independent spirits?
SA: Their friendship began as a mentoring relationship-Rose helped Troub with her writing-and continued when they decided to travel and live
together. There is absolutely no documentation of a physical intimacy between them. However, Helen did not marry after her friendship with Rose
ended. Both Rose and Helen were friends of other women who were involved in same-sex friendships. And the letters they exchanged-which would
allow us to understand better the basis of their friendship-are missing. What happened to them? Are they locked away somewhere? Were they
destroyed? If so, destroyed by Rose, or the man who inherited her literary estate? We donít know the answers to these questions.
That said, what is very clear is that, for more than six years, these two creative, adventuresome, independent women derived a great deal of
pleasure in each otherís company. They enjoyed a relationship that was mutually supportive and caring. Whatever else it was really doesnít matter,
LG: Of course not; you suggested their deep devotion effectively. What advice do you think Rose would give aspiring writers and what advice would
her mother give? Do you agree with their advice?
SA: I believe that Rose would say: Write, write, write. Read your stuff critically, mark it up, and rewrite, rewrite. Write every day, no matter how hot
it is, or how tired you are, or how discouraged you feel. Send your stuff out. Donít be disheartened when it comes back-rewrite and try another
market. Oh, and be sure to keep a day-to-day diary of your various writing projects, to document the projects youíve been engaged in. And to satisfy
the curiosity of the researchers who may come along and want to know what you were doing on a particular day.
Laura would say: Tell the story you have to tell, as well as you can tell it. Itís okay to use a yellow lined tablet and pencil, if thatís all you have
available. And if you need help to get your story published, itís very good to have a daughter who is a professional writer.
LG: What are you working on now? Where can readers learn more about your work, and Story Circle Network?
SA: Right now, Iím working on another mystery in one of my two ongoing mystery series published by Penguin/Berkley. (I havenít yet gotten used to
saying Random-Penguin/Berkley.) I continue to be an active volunteer with the Story Circle Network, an organization that supports women memoirists.
LG: Thanks so much for sharing your insights and observations with us. The combination of Lauraís stories and Roseís expert editing, shaping, and
polishing have given the world a series that keeps a female perspective of the Old West alive. Thanks for sharing the story behind the story.