Laura Bell Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Laura Bell

Laura Bell

An interview with Laura Bell

Laura Bell talks about her memoir, Claiming Ground, and how her childhood dreams - and her parents - inspired her to herd sheep in the harsh high deserts of Wyoming.

You grew up in the American South.  What first drew you, when you were in your early twenties, to the high desert basin of northwest Wyoming? Was it the landscape or the people or the wildlife?  Has that changed over your many years living in the West?
It was the land, all the space and the ability to live my childhood dream, a life horseback.  In the thirty-plus years I’ve lived in Wyoming, I’ve come to love that it’s a state where cattle and people and wildlife can migrate hundreds of miles, irrespective of roads.  It’s a grand sweep of life and landscape.  And my work now with the Nature Conservancy helps to protect that.

What was the most frightening or surprising thing you encountered as a young sheepherder in the Big Horn Basin?  
That I had actually gotten what I said I wanted, which was to be alone.  It was very frightening to realize that I had that power, that as a grown up, no one was going to come and take me back home.  It was both thrilling and terrifying.

Over the course of learning to be a mother, you reference your own parents, their enduring marriage, your father’s theological training and your mother’s work with Alzheimer’s patients.  How have they influenced your decision to write this memoir?
I really never set out to write a memoir—I mean, who would presume?  But over the years it evolved into one.  My parents have always been very supportive of the crooked path I’ve taken, even when they didn’t understand it. By example, they’ve shown me that it’s never too late to take something on and give it all you have. So, as I took this manuscript by the horns, they cheered me on, even when it meant seeing themselves revealed alongside me.  It’s not easy, but they’ve been amazing, and the process has drawn us much closer.  

People tell stories about their lives all the time. They choose a story to tell that reflects something about them.  In the writing of these stories, what came out for me was the longing for love and acceptance, for belonging.  And the odd thing is, I grew up with layer upon layer of community and family and belonging and still I had to search for it, had to travel a very long road to see what had always been around me.

I have a tremendous role model in my parents.  My mother went back to school and graduated with a master’s degree at the age of 60.  She’s 87 now and still writing books, still speaking and teaching around the world.  My father is 90 and still studying and teaching, still contributing to his community.

You write movingly and sparingly about the grief of suddenly losing one of your loved ones.  Is there anything in the natural environment and rhythm of your life in the West that has offered a measure of solace during that process?
That summer after Jenny’s death I had committed to helping an outfitter friend run horse-packing trips into the backcountry of Yellowstone.  That promise really shook me out of my catatonic place, and all summer I took care of people and horses, living outside, moving through beauty.  I rode through places that had been torched from the big fires of 1988 and saw new growth.  I heard other people’s stories and understood that life is full of loss. It’s made me a more compassionate person.  

You’ve been working for the Nature Conservancy for almost 10 years.  How has the job of being an advocate for natural resources affected your writing?   
Claiming Ground is the story of leaving home, of finding my place in the world, both geographically and within my family.  My life and story are set so firmly inside the physical landscape of Wyoming, and I feel a deep commitment to giving back.  Having spent the first half of my life growing and learning, I feel that I want to make myself of use, to be of service, to offer something back to this land that helped shape me.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Laura Bell at BookBrowse
Claiming Ground jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Laura Bell but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Judy Blunt

    Judy Blunt

    Judy Blunt spent more than thirty years on wheat and cattle ranches in northeastern Montana, before leaving in 1986 to attend the University of Montana. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Claiming Ground

    Try:
    Breaking Clean
    by Judy Blunt

  • Gail Caldwell

    Gail Caldwell

    Gail Caldwell is the former chief book critic for the Boston Globe, where she was a staff writer and critic for more than twenty years. In 2001, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She lives in Cambridge, ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Claiming Ground

    Try:
    A Strong West Wind
    by Gail Caldwell

We recommend 6 similar authors

View all 6 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...
  • Book Jacket: Foster
    Foster
    by Claire Keegan
    Irish author Claire Keegan is experiencing a surge in popularity, thanks to the selection of her ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Bell in the Lake
by Lars Mytting
The engrossing epic novel - a #1 bestseller in Norway - of a young woman whose fate plays out against her village's mystical church bells.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Dinosaurs
    by Lydia Millet

    "Tender but never sentimental, wearing its intelligence in a low-slung style, Dinosaurs is a garden of earthly delights."—Vogue

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.