June 10, 2010

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Flying the coop
Michael Perry on book tour
By Jeff Mucciarone jmucciarone@hippopress.com

Michael Perry, who wrote Population: 485 and Truck: A Love Story, is touring the country to promote his newest book, Coop: A Family, A Farm and the Pursuit of One Good Egg. It details his familyís experiences as he and his wife find themselves in a rickety Wisconsin farmhouse with pigs, chickens and a baby on the way. Perry will be at the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, on Monday, June 21, and at Gibsonís Bookstore in Concord, on Tuesday, June 22. Visit Perryís blog at www.sneezingcow.com.

Q:Your newest book, how would you describe it?
Well, itís about a small family moving to the country trying to turn 37 acres into some food, and among the unexpected elements that turn up in the course of the year, we also had to deliver a baby in the upstairs of an old farmhouse. Though I considered myself a farm boy from my childhood, I wound up engaging in activities ... like wrestling a pig and being bit in the butt by a giant coon dog.

But you recovered?
Well yeah, but I havenít had the opportunity to check lately.

Youíve had experience farming, but what was it like to go back to that?
I grew up on a small dairy farm and I spent five years working on a ranch in Wyoming to put myself through college. And I should mention that I have a nursing degree. I was the only cowboy in all of Wyoming who was putting himself through nursing school. I guarantee that. So the advantage that I had was that I knew what I was getting myself into. My wife also has a farming background. So I tried to take small steps, and it turned out they were still too big. We didnít dive in and get a whole bunch of animals. I donít make any secret that Iím a freelance writer and I support my family by primarily magazine articles, books and performing in a band ... but the key is low overhead in all things. Thatís the key. We had a common idea of what farming entails.

When you went into the farming, did you know youíd be writing about it, or did the book come later?
It was a little bit of both. It was my fourth book for [Harper Collins] so I knew at the time I was going to be moving. And so I had suggested writing something about the move. Of course, I had no idea what the year might actually hold. As I said, there were surprises that I didnít anticipate. Also, the book also became very much a memoir of my father and my childhood. I was raised in an obscure Christian sect. Iím long ago departed from the faith but I love and cherish my parents. They took in right around 50 foster children over the years, many with physical and mental disabilities. I wound up revisiting that part of my childhood, using it as a frame. My parents were both city kids who moved to a farm in their early 20s.

Thatís interesting.
My mother said she didnít care who she married as long as it wasnít a farmer. My dad was a city kid with a chemistry degree working at paper mills. Two years into their marriage, they decided to chuck it all and start farming. I was two when we moved to the farm and I only ever remember being a farm boy.

What did you learn about yourself and about your family during the experience?
It reinforced what I believed ahead of time, that farming is a whole lot of work. Weíve learned you have to be a little flexible.... The biggest thing that we learned, and I write about it in the book, it sounds silly and a sort of run-of-the-mill moment that was absolutely the highlight of the whole processóone night we were up very late and weíd finished up with chicken butchering and we were standing in our garage in our grimy flannels, and we looked in the freezer and it was packed to the top with food that came from our backyard or that I took off the land during hunting season, chickens raised, pigs raised. What really caught us off guard, was how together we felt as a husband and wife. We delivered a baby in that house. Whatever we did wrong or underestimated ... what we wound up with was a yearís worth of food in our freezer. We felt joined together as a couple; ícourse we donít get out much.

How different was this book from your previous works?
I tend to just start writing and meandering into a whole lot of dead ends. So in that sense, sadly, that process never seems to change... I include a lot of humor in my books. One of my main sources of humor is my own incompetence and believe me, there was plenty of material. I didnít have to look far for humor....

Why should people check this book out?
Iím a self-employed writer who has been buying my own health insurance for 20 years. Thatís the main reason. One thing that has happened, there is a great interest that cuts across demographics Ö in local food, local sources of food, I would say a modern version of self-reliance. I think this book has that. Itís also leavened with a pretty good amount of humor and reality. I would like to say this book could be called ďBack to the Land for Dummies.Ē And then I do actually write about some fairly heavy stuffÖ. óJeff Mucciarone