Kev’s Author Interviews Presents:
Author of A Ranch Bordering the Salty River
Kev: Tell us a bit about yourself, Stephen.
Steve: Hello, Readers. How are you? I am fantastic. My name is Stephen Page, but you may call me Steve. I was born in Detroit into a family with Irish, English, Shawnee, and Apache lineage. I am the author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River (by Finishing Line Press). I graduated with two AA’s from Palomar college, a BA from Columbia University, and an MFA From Bennington College. I currently live in Argentina and am married to a bewitching Argentine woman. I love traveling, adventuring, reading, eNetflix-bingeing, spending time with my family, and occasionally throwing my cell phone off a high bridge.
Kev: What’s your latest book called and how did you come up with the title?
Steve: The title of the book is A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. I derived the name from the fictional location of a ranch/farm which happens to have a salty river along one of its borders.
The Salty River works as a metaphor for the briny relationship the main character, Jonathan, has with his employees and business partners.
Kev: Which Genre do you have it listed under and does it cross any other genres?
Steve: It is a collection of poems, a novel in verse, a work of fiction . . . so yes, it does cross genres . . . or maybe it can best be called a genre-rich book . . . a bundle of genres . . . a bound genrae.
Kev: Tell us a little bit more about it.
Steve: This book tells the story of Jonathan, a rancher who learns how to run a ranch in an environmentally conscious manner. He learns how treat the animals humanely and the employees justly. He ensures that a generous portion of land is kept feral as a wildlife refuge and a haven for local flora. He daily battles cattle rustlers, horse thieves, contract hustlers, saboteurs, and violent people . . . until . . . well, so I won’t spoiler-alert, you will have to read the book to see how the story plays out.
Kev: Introduce us to your main character
Steve: I picture Jonathan as an intellectually rugged man. He wakes early to sip coffee while watching the sun rise over fields of clover and listen to the morning birds sing. He puts on his rancher clothes and steps out of his house and steps up into his white pickup or hops on his roan horse to perform a recorrido (tour of the ranch), where he checks on the state of the livestock, makes certain security gates are locked and closed, supervises the employees on their daily routines, mandates orders of the day, ensures that his business partners who plant seeds and harvest on his land are rotating the crops properly—and most especially do not spray herbicides/pesticides that are on “the worst environmentally hazardous product lists.” He often works in the corral with the gauchos (South American cowboys). Sometimes, or whenever he can, which is never as often as he likes, he slips away and sits in the woods and sips mate (a loose-leaf tea drunk from a gourd through a metal straw) and just relishes the beauty of living on a piece of land that is rich with nature. Jonathan is an ethical person who believes in fair-play and wants to do good things in the world. He is honest but naïve in the world of business and business people—that is where the tension arises in the poems/story.
Kev: Provide a teaser/short passage from your book.
Steve: Here is the first poem of the collection, which introduces the voice of the main character, and provides the setting:
In a field northeast of Wood
the soy is stunted,
the pods hang brown and brittle
the leaves twirl dunly.
I never knew there could be so many!
How angry they sound in the afternoon:
hundreds of white wood hives
pueblo the edge
I could not reach Wood,
the bramble and burrs
were too thick
boundaring the tree line
with my bare legs.
My ranch house sits kilometers
away, my 4 by 4 is parked
on the road behind me.
I want to enter the Myth
of Wood, the legend of its shade
to lick the dew off leaves.
The thistle has bloomed to seed.
Steve: And here are the epigrams, which help set up the story:
“I is someone else.”— Arthur Rimbaud. “The known interprets the obscure, the universe is alive with myth.” – Ernest Fenolloso. “It behooves man now not to separate himself too jauntily from any of nature’s creatures.” – Charles Olson. “The World has a soul.” – Allen Ginsberg. And “Out of our quarrel with others we make rhetoric. Out of our quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” – William Butler Yeats
Kev: When you wrote this work, did you write off-the-cuff or use some kind of formula like an outline?
Steve: I just started writing poems regularly out on a piece of land on the Pampas (the Argentine grain belt/plains). I often sat in the early morning hours by or in a wooded area and wrote about nature and the synthesis of human beings with the rest of the natural world. Then, after I started working on the land, I thought of an imaginary account of a rancher/farmer trying to use the land profitably yet environmentally friendly, and those topics cropped up in my poems. Eventually, I found a line threading through the poems I had been writing for over a year, and a common thesis was revealed to me with a drama playing out. So, there was no outline. Not at first anyways. The only formula I remember was that the work began poem by poem, headed in no particular direction, but then aligned arbitrarily, and consciously marched off to a satisfying conclusion.
Kev: Did you research for the backdrop of your story or any other part of it?
Steve: In order to validate to the poems and story, I did research, especially after the poems began to form a united work. I googled, read online, and bought hundreds of books about ranching, farming, managing employees, taking care of livestock, names of local fauna and flora.
Kev: What challenges did this particular work pose for you?
Steve: Time, mostly. Long hours of writing and editing after long days of running a ranch/farm. Then there was the learning how to smile when dealing with dishonest people.
Kev: What methods are you using to promote this work?
Steve: I am a writer and a reader. Usually humble, in fact I am the most humble person I know. Seriously, I am not by nature a bragger, a grandstander, or a show-off. So, promoting is something I never did before or even tried to do. I am still new at it (even after months of execution) and still learning. The people at Finishing Line Press provided me with some reading material to learn how to promote. Promoting apparently is the “now” way for writers to publish and sell books. Whereas, in the past, publishing houses did most of the promoting and selling and distributing, now most publishing houses want the writer to do the legwork and phone calling. There are lots of ways to go about promoting. In my case, I just e-mailed bookstores, alma-matters, libraries, family, and friends. I set up a book tour. I also opened Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to post notices about the progress of the book’s publication, its release, the book tour, blurbs and reviews. So, readers, if you read something on-line from a writer that rings like shame-faced self-promotion, it’s just a necessary survival tactic, an evolutionary result.
Kev: Do you have any advice for new authors?
Steve: Just keep at it. Never give up. Always think of yourself as a writer (even if other people do not). Spend as much time submitting for publication and promoting your work as you do writing.
Stephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan. He is the author of The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, and A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. He holds a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald, Gently Read Literature, and Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He currently lives in Argentina where he teaches World literature.
Bio back cover of book: Stephen Page was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where he worked in factories, die-maker tool rooms, and steel-cutting shops—all the while longing for a vocation associated with nature. He now lives in Argentina where he had the opportunity to learn how to ranch and farm.
Bio inside book: Stephen Page is part Shawnee and part Apache. His other books of poetry include The Timbre of Sand (1999) and Still Dandelions (2004). He graduated from Palomar College, Columbia University (with honors), and Bennington College. He received a Jess Cloud Memorial Prize for Poetry, a Writer-in-Residence with stipend from the Montana Artists Refuge, a full Writer Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. His book reviews are published regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and on Fox Chase Review. He also writes short stories, novels, screen plays. He has taught literature, ESL, and film studies. He loves family, spontaneous road trips, and throwing his cellphone into a large body of water.
What People Are Saying About Stephen Page’s “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River”
Half Frost, half Hemingway, Stephen Page tells a gripping tale in verse of a rancher disenchanted with the details of administering land, its livestock, and its unreliable laborers, only to be called by the mythic lure of the nearby Wood and the amorphous deity that emerges to encounter him. The writing here is clean and lovely and permanent, which is rare in storytelling and rarer still in poetry. – Rustin Larson, author of The Philosopher Savant
For Jonathan and Teresa, who live on A Ranch Bordering the Salty River, life is rich with pleasures and responsibilities. Set in the vast landscape of Argentina, where “summer is a bread oven that delivers too early” and “the gauchos once stopped to drink mate in front of the fire,” Stephen Page’s poems describe a life where the border between place and state of being are often crossed at a heavy price. The air is scented with eucalyptus, but there are vultures “heavy along the fenceline.” In this place where “they do not honor absentmindedness,” a man has little latitude in life’s juggle of work, love, and spiritual journey. Page manages this precariousness beautifully in these poems. – Leslie McGrath, author of Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage
“Enter the myth” of Stephen Page’s Argentine estancia of moonrings and mate in this love letter to a woman and her land from a former soldier who has “holstered (his) gun and sheathed / (his) knife and got down to the business / of grass.” A Ranch Bordering the Salty River is a beautiful meditation on counting and “uncounting,” of “eucalypti and sycamores,” cattle and cattle thieves, yard hands, a growing family, trials, blessings, legends, and of overseeing a wooded eco-ranch. – Chip Livingston, author of Naming Ceremony and Crow-Blue, Crow-Black
Stephen Page opens the gates to Jonathan’s ranch where “the sky is so large” and we walk with Jonathan “into the myth of the Wood, the legend of its shade, to lick the dew off leaves.” We ride horseback through the Belt of Venus. We greet Jonathan’s dog, who arrives “as a moon phase, mostly black, a crescent tie of white…the sun reflected off (his) chest (sic) like a journeying god riding a chariot”. We meet Teresa, Jonathan’s wife, who “no longer wanders the Wood, but cradles her child in the bleach of her kitchen.” We encounter “mountainous dragons with fire-wet tongues and hot breath and teeth like jagged sun-bleached rocks.” We carry belt knives, hand guns, and stand outside Malingerer’s home with hammers in our hand. Yes, Page invites us onto A Ranch Bordering the Salty River with all its beauty and violence. It is a visit we will long remember. – g emil reutter, author of Blue Collar Poet
Stephen Page’s “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River” is a unique collection of poems whose main subject is an American managing a large ranch in Argentina. Generally an unsentimental account of chores, local workers and natural wonders, Page presents striking and convincing images and diction. The Wild West is still alive, but it’s in South America — Ed Ochester, author of Snow White Horses
A Ranch Bordering the Salty River is a character-driven poetic narrative filled with suspense, cruelty, love, family, nature, mate, goddesses, Teresa, cattle, cattle ranches, and gauchos. There are heroes—Jonathan the narrator and The Horseback Vet—juxtaposed with villains of all sorts which one is likely to encounter on ranches. At the “Tree root” Jonathan (a man of many occupations besides ranching) longs not to be driven by soy-for-profit which his business partner urges: “to plow away more of my grass, shot the quail, trap the armadillos, flit away the mockingbird, spray to death the flowers, plant genetically modified soy, sterilize my herd to nothing”; rather, he wants “Transformations” – “let the cattle feed…keep the fields clovered…take daily strolls in the quiet of the Wood…watch for hours bumblebees work, and lock eyes with the mockingbird.” Jonathan has this unescapable longing “to return to the wood/To the way it was.” Stephen Page will take you there and upon returning, you too will be changed. – Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, author of Images of Being
Mother Nature, the world of the gauchos, bees, an Argentine ranch: with vivid accuracy and little sentimentality, Stephen Page delineates the sensibilities and life of Jonathan, a rancher. The afternoon mate taken, observations of cattle, mosquitoes, flora and fauna not only of the physical landscape, but the mental landscape of those that inhabit it, Page returns again and again to the restorative old ways of nature: “Yesterday I walked to the Wood. / Yesterday I walked back. / Yesterday I walked. Yesterday / I want to return to the Wood, / To the way it was.” – Mộng-Lan, author of One Thousand Minds Brimming.
“Stephen Page’s “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River” is a unique collection of poems whose main subject is an American managing a large ranch in Argentina. Generally an unsentimental account of chores, local workers and natural wonders, Page presents striking and convincing images and diction. The Wild West is still alive, but it’s in South America” — Ed Ochester, author of Snow White Horses
This strong and unerringly honest book gives us a unique perspective of a poet/rancher. The poet (his books and diplomas hidden in a secret room) has an insightful grasp of the largely uneasy worker-boss relationship and makes poems out of his ambivalence. Page’s world of horses, cows, birds, grasses, native flowers, and trees are evoked with a mix of lyricism and exactitude. We come to trust his attachment to the land and to his wife and to his wife’s family. All this with a glimmer of a love story in which we may imagine what brought this erudite poet to gaucho country add up to a memorable collection. – Colette Inez, author of The Luba Poems
Links to and about “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River,” by Stephen Page: