When she was 18, Yvonne Wakefield took the inheritance intended to pay for her college, bought 80 acres in the Oregon mountains, and built her own log cabin home.
Wakefield's new memoir, Babe in the Woods: Building a Life One Log at a Time, explores her "relationship with woodsy things" and how Yvonne built a life for herself after becoming an orphan at 14.
Yvonne recently answered questions for Rose City Reader about her book, her cabin, writing, and woodsy things:
How did you come to write Babe in the Woods?
I started compiling journal pieces I had published with unpublished material written in notebooks to create narrative that read more like a story than a diary. I also wanted preserve the stories of a stage of humanity that is getting lost in the digital age.
Why, at age 18, did you head off into the Oregon mountains to build a log cabin by yourself? And why did you think you could do it?
The night my mother died I had, I don’t want to say vision because that sounds too mystical, so I’ll say an idea formed in my mind. It was of me, a cat, living in a cabin I built in the woods. I had no idea I could achieve what I envisioned but through dogged determination and blinded by naiveté and driven to create a home for myself I survived insurmountable situations with the help of kind strangers I met during the process of building.
Can you give us an example or two of advice you wished you had before you undertook to build a log cabin by yourself?
I wish I had listened to people I met along the way who advised me not to lift really heavy things like logs. But at 18 years old you listen to no one but yourself. Consequently, my bones and organs paid the price.
Is Babe in the Woods more memoir or more a how to book or survival guide? Who is your intended audience?
It is memoir, a straight forward story about surviving myself on inter and intrapersonal levels and doing this mainly alone in the wilderness and often in isolation, motivated on by the goal of building a home. I purposely avoided writing too intricately about the building process because I did not want it to read like a how-to guide. What it took for me to survive is unique to my own physique and circumstances. I thought my audience would be mainly twenty something women, but marketing statistics revealed a range of women between the ages of 20-60 and men interested in building with logs.
What is your work background? Did it lead you to writing your book or contribute to your book in another way?
I have a checkerboard work background. For decades I’ve juggled making and selling art with free-lance writing and teaching to cobble together a living. I have a doctorate in Human Organizational Systems which sometimes comes into play in my consultancy work. I do not believe any of this contributed to my writing Babe in the Woods, but it did my other book, Suitcase Filled With Nails: Lessons Learned Teaching Art in Kuwait, because it is the story of my six years as an art professor at a women’s college in Kuwait.
Can you recommend any other books about what you call our “relationship with woodsy things”?
One of my favorites is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and the journals of Emily Carr and Opal Whitely.
Writers often follow the rule, “Write what you know.” But did you learn something about yourself from writing your memoir that you didn’t know before?
Yes. Interestingly in Babe in the Woods: Building a Life One Log at a Time, I saw a relationship with my brother and this carries over into the second of the series. I also realized that the foundation I built at age 18 literally and figuratively developed in me traits I continue to use on a daily basis
Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?
Anything by John Steinbeck, most of Kurt Vonnegut, and Annie Dillard. I do not believe my writing is influenced by any writer. If I saw that it was, I would immediately quit writing. I write like I talk and think and that is particular to me.
What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I like memoir. When I write, which is mostly every day for the last six years, I don’t really read books because I don’t want to be influenced by other words and by night, my usual reading time my eyes and brain are shot.
You have a terrific website. From an author's perspective, how important are internet resources to promote your book? Do you also use social networking sites or other internet resources?
My website is really that…a kind of web displaying certain facets of my art and links to my books. Research shows that the internet is essential in promoting anything. Unfortunately, using social media does not come naturally to me. It’s really a chore for me to use. Like a language or tool I’ve little idea on how to best apply.
Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?
Upcoming events are posted on my website. This Monday, February 6, 2017, I'll be doing a reading at 6:30 PM in Port Angeles, Washington, at the main library. And on Tuesday, February 7, I'll do a reading at 6:30 PM at the Sequim Library in Sequim, Washington.
I love to attend book groups who are using my books and do so whenever I’m invited.
What’s next? Are you working on your next book?
Yes. The second in the Babe in the Woods series is just about ready to go into final editing and I’ve dashed off pages for the third book which brings my story with woodsy things into a new light, showing a 360 degree view of the orphaned girl at 18 to the newly widowed 60 year old woman who can still yield a chainsaw, ax, and maul with precision and strength. I still own the property and cabin and go there at least once a month. The only thing I won’t do alone any longer is saw down big trees. I’ve been lucky in that sense and want to keep it that way.
THANK YOU, YVONNE!
BABE IN THE WOODS: BUILDING A LIFE ONE LOG AT A TIME IS AVAILABLE ONLINE, OR ASK YOUR LOCAL BOOK SELLER TO ORDER IT!