A Stranded Motorist and a Hitchhiker

A few weeks back, a friend called because he was short-handed, and needed help on his shrimp boat. My family had eaten all our shrimp from my last time crewing, and by chance, I had that Friday off, so I readily agreed to meet him in Louisiana,

That Friday morning, I left our house near Andalusia, Alabama at 3:00 AM. Three miles out, a man was standing beside his car, parked on US 29, with his hazard lights flashing. I pulled over and rolled down the passenger side window. He approached the car and said “I’m out of gas. I got out of prison and I’m on my way to a new job. My sister must have used all the gas last night.”

From that spot to the nearest 24-hour gas station was eighteen miles.

I told him, “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

He said, “I believe in you man.”

I turned the car around and drove back to my house, to retrieve a full, one-gallon gas can.

During that short trip, I considered the risk associated with this good deed. He didn’t have to mention his time in prison, his face told the story. The flattened nose and empty eyes spoke to: violence, decades of drug abuse, and moral vacuity. If I read him correctly, he may profess his undying loyalty at 3:45 PM, and cut your throat at 3:46 PM, after noticing that nice watch you were wearing.

I pulled over beside his car with the passenger window down, my seatbelt off, and the car still in drive. There was some space between us, and some freedom of movement. He approached the passenger side and I handed the can of gas out the window.

In the ten minutes required to retrieve the gas, his story had changed. “Hey man, I’m looking for a job. I’m a hard worker, anything you have to offer.”

When he turned to poor the gas in his car, I drove off, leaving him with the can and enough gas to get to Brewton, if he was continuing west.

I had mostly paid attention to his face in the beginning, but as I drove west I considered the car. It was a very nice, late model sedan, probably worth about twenty or thirty times the beater I drove. It may have been a hot, in which case I had just assisted a felon in the act.

I rendezvoused with my friend Paxton near Ponchatoula. We the crossed the Lake Pontchartain causeway and launched out of St. Barnard Parish. We shrimped though the day and night, putting back in at about 8:00 AM on Saturday.

I drove East on I-10. On Saturdays, my family sets up as vendors at the Palafox Market in Pensacola, Florida. We had a bunch of mushrooms to sell this particular Saturday, so I figured I’d meet the family on Palafox Street, and help with sales until the market closed at 2:00 PM.

I made it out of Louisiana, through Mississippi, and into Alabama. Just past the exit to Fairhope, a sharply dressed woman was standing on the shoulder of I-10. I figured less risk, offering a ride to a female, so I stopped again. By the time, I pulled over, I was about 100 yards past her. Rather than walk towards my car, she stared at her cell phone. That should have been sufficient warning that something wasn’t right, but perhaps my mind was addled from lack of sleep.

I slowly backed up on the shoulder, until I was directly beside her. She wore the skin tight black clothing, that I have seen many waitresses utilize in upscale restaurants. She looked to be about thirty, thin, with blond hair and a tongue-stud. She looked at my dirty old Buick with obvious disdain and asked, “Don’t you have something to put over the seat?” I placed my rain slicker over the passenger seat. She opened the door got in and announced, “If my uniform gets dirty, you are going to burn in hell.”

I thought, “Oh God, I’ve screwed the pooch again.”

I started driving east. I didn’t know how far she was going, so I asked, “Where are you headed?”

She turned to stare at me and spit these words out, “I don’t know you! It’s none of your business.”

This situation was going downhill fast.

I stared straight ahead and made sure I had the cell phone ready, if I needed to pull over quickly and exit the car.

Her hands didn’t stop moving: rapid darting movement, back and forth, as if she was in silent conversation. Without permission, she turned the heater to full blast. Then she turned the radio to maximum volume, and randomly pushed buttons on the stereo. She was either out of her mind, or tweaking hard on meth.

This was scary shit.

We approached the Florida line, and an overpass came into view. She said, “Pull over, now.” One way or the other, we were rapidly approaching the end game.

I stopped beside the overpass with my hand on the seat-belt release. She opened her door, stepped out, and looked at me, “You are going to kill Paul White. There is no doubt about it.” She waved me off saying, “Go.”

I went.

So why tell this story?

In the fall of 2014, I walked the length of the Texas-Mexico Border. Along the way, I was assisted by dozens of strangers. People that offered rides, money, food, even spare bedrooms while I was passing through town. I started that walk on October 27th, 2014 in El Paso, Texas, and finished on Boca Chica Beach on December 21st, 2014.

I learned many things during that 1,010 mile trek, but perhaps the most important lesson, was the restoration of my faith in humanity.

In less than a week, I fly back to El Paso. On December 21st, I’ll catch a ride to International Mile Marker #1, where I will start walking west, into New Mexico and Arizona. Once again, strangers will come to my aid. They will see an unshaved transient with a backpack, and accepting the risk, they will stop to offer assistance. This election didn’t change who we are, or who they are.

After my first walk along the Texas-Mexico border, I swore to repay the many favors bestowed upon me. So, I give food to the homeless in Pensacola. I stop to help stranded motorists, and sometime in the next year or so, I hope to publish a book with the working title, “Border Walk.” I will let the world know that we must consider how our border policies affect the millions of people who call the border their home. Author Page on Facebook

In the meantime, there is a film about my Texas-Mexico walk titled La Frontera. It was produced by Rex Jones with the Southern Documentary Project. It has played on PBS stations from Florida to California.

With just a few days until my walk, I feel buoyant each time I strap on the pack for a conditioning hike through the Conecuh National Forest. A funk has been hanging over me since the election, and another three-hundred miles along the border: it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Walk West

On December 21st, 2016, I fly from Mobile, Alabama to El Paso, Texas, and begin walking west from International Mile Marker #1.

intlmikemarker1December 21st marks the two-year anniversary of the completion of my trek along the Texas-Mexico Border.  That walk also started at International Mile Marker #1, but the initial route led south and east on October 27, 2014. The eastern half of the US-Mexico Border trek ended at Boca Chica Beach, near Brownsville, Texas on December 21, 2014.

On the Texas-Mexico trek, I was supported by the Tex-Mex Compadres for all but a few days of the one thousand ten-mile hike.

My walk west, will be unsupported.

I will utilize my two-weeks of vacation and paid leave from LBWCC (Lurleen B. Wallace Community College), to walk the border between Mexico and two states (New Mexico & Arizona).  Much of this stretch is very sparsely populated. For example, it is seventy-five miles between my starting point, at International Mile Marker #1 in El Paso, and the next small town, Columbus, New Mexico.

I carry a pack that weighs approximately thirty pounds, before adding food and water.  To complete this journey, it will be necessary to restock supplies of food and water every two or three days. The only feasible way to carry the necessary calories is to pick up supplies at small post offices or community centers along my route.

At the recent screening of La Frontera at Constant Coffee and Tea in Pensacola, Florida, a young woman asked, “How can we support you in this trek?”  After a moment’s thought, I remembered that my good friends, Johnny Stowe, Jeff Thurmond, and Arthur Hitt had mailed packages of food for my retrieval during the Texas walk.

For those with inclination, time, and forethought, feel free to mail care packages to the following locations.  Be sure to allow plenty of time for the package to arrive BEFORE I get there.  I can’t backtrack to pick up packages that arrive after I have passed through town.

This page has some simple directions for how to address the packages, but as an example:

Mark J. Hainds
C/O General Delivery
Trail Town, VA 12345
Please hold for Border Walker
ETA Dec 2??, 2016

These are best guesses on arrival dates at these small communities, and addresses for mail drops.

Updates will also be posted at my author pages on the Mark Hainds Facebook page.

To verify my progress, location, and schedule, contact my wife Katia at: katiabeli@yahoo.com

A little bit of direction for people who send me a care package for the trail:

Regarding preferred food items, the overriding concern is packing lots of calories into a small space.
Rigid containers are problematic, and variety is nice.

The Evolution of Sweetbill’s

Mushrooms at Palafox Market
Mushrooms at the Palafox Market

Our website was originally intended as an author blog, and a place to advertise/publicize products from our business.  An earlier incarnation of our business was called “Deep South Nursery”.  We grew hardwood seedlings, shrubs, and native herbaceous species.
After about one decade, we started taking firewood and smoking woods to the old Port City Market in Pensacola.  I came up with the name “HHHH Nursery and Wood Products.”   The four H’s stood for “Hainds Hardy Hardwoods and Herbs.”  While I found the name brilliant, Katia wasn’t impressed.
We continued growing seedlings and plants, but my interest shifted to other products.  Meanwhile, the Port City Market went away and we started attending the Palafox Market year around.
My first book, Year of the Pig, was published in 2011.  I generally have a few copies at the market, and ever since it was published, I’ve looked forward to having a second book beside it.
We got some chickens, and started taking foraged mushrooms, herbs, berries, and nuts to the market.  Florida changed its law, and that allowed us to add jams, jellies, preserves, and marmalades.

lumber at the market
Shelving anyone — Raw Lumber at the Palafox Market

At Katia’s wise insistence, and with consultation from our customers, we changed our name to Sweetbill’s.
We wore out on the nursery, and then we wore out on the chickens.  We’ll probably get some more hens in 2017, but we’ve further shifted our priorities towards mushroom production and lumber.
In the fall/winter of 2014 I walked the length of the Texas-Mexico Border.  A manuscript detailing this walk is in the final editing process.  In the near future, Border Walk will be handed over to an agent or a publisher.  Hopefully, it will get published in 2017.  A documentary about my walk became available in early October, 2016, and La Frontera will be playing on multiple PBS stations this fall (2016).
When I returned from the walk along the border, I spent an entire month (March, 2014) inoculating logs for mushroom production.  The following winter 2015-2016, I again devoted an enormous amount of time to inoculation, and we are now witnessing the fruits of those efforts.

Mushroom Farm at Home
Marissa and Joseph enjoying the Mushroom Farm at Home

Although I grow the mushrooms, Katia is the woman who packs them so carefully in the containers.  When you purchase a pint or quart of our: shiitake, chanterelles, oysters, nameko, olive oysterling, or lion’s mane, that container will hold some pretty mushrooms.  It is not uncommon for me to arise at 3 AM on a Saturday morning, and find Katia still cleaning and packing the mushrooms.  That’s a lot effort to get you bring you some fungi!
You may have noticed some attractive lumber and slabs propped against the trailer we pull to the market. I have been cutting and hauling logs to various mills for several years.  But production picked up substantially when I located enormous amounts of cedar, oak, pine, pecan, cherry, and other woods, that in many cases, would be piled and burned were I not salvaging the logs.
In December I fly back to El Paso to attempt another leg of the US-Mexico border.  This time, I’ll be tackling New Mexico and eastern Arizona. If all goes well, I’ll be back at the Palafox Market by mid-January, with more stories to tell.

Wild Blueberries

Wild Blueberries
     Many people are working to restore the native, fire-maintained, longleaf pine ecosystem of the southeastern, US. Land managers and locals with some botanical skills know one of the important plant families contributing to the wonderful diversity of the longleaf ecosystem is the Heath Family, or Ericaceae.

     Across much of the south, a healthy longleaf forest will contain a very diverse community of blueberries and huckleberries, which are two genera of the Heath family. Blueberries are Vacciniums and huckleberries are Gaylusaccias. In a typical lower Coastal Plain longleaf forest that has never been converted to agriculture or subjected to an intensive mechanical or chemical site preparation, it would not be uncommon to observe half of the understory covered with blueberries and huckleberries.

     For the last couple of years, we have put my plant identification and foraging skills to use by harvesting wild blueberries and taking them to the Palafox Farmers’ Market in Pensacola, Florida. First to bear is Elliot’s blueberry or Vaccinium elliottii. Elliot’s blueberry is one of the first shrubs to bloom on the Conecuh National Forest and the Blackwater State Forest. You will find native pollinators working Elliot’s blueberry bushes in February and March. The small fruits range from bb size to slightly larger. It takes a long time to acquire a significant volume of Elliot’s blueberries.

     Next in line are our low bush blueberries. I believe most of our low bush blueberries are Vaccinium myrsinites. The fruit from low bush are roughly equivalent in size to the Elliot’s blueberry, but the bush is much lower to the ground and sometimes the low bush are much more prolific. A one to two foot tall bush may have a hundred or more bb sized – sweet blueberries. The fruit ranges from almost black, to dark blue, to glaucous light blue berries.

      When there is a good crop of Elliot’s and/or low bush blueberries, we harvest what we can. We collect enough to fit in a baby food jar (4 ounces) and pour it into a ziplock snack bag for sale at the farmers’ market. This is a low-wage endeavor.

     We do much better when the high-bush start producing. Although there is tremendous variation in the height, foliar, and fruiting characteristics of high-bush blueberry, I believe all of them are the species Vaccinium corymbosum. High-bush are less common in our forest than are the low-bush and Elliot’s blueberry, so I take note anytime I find a stand worth harvesting. We previously collected most of our berries from the Conecuh National Forest in June & July, but the foresters finally got around to burning the stands where we collected most of our berries and it may be a few more years before the bushes recover enough stature to produce harvestable quantities of blueberries.

      One high bush-blueberry is equivalent in volume to several Elliot’s or low-bush blueberries. When we find a dense stand of high-bush blueberries, the Hainds family can collect several pints per hour. Last week we collected 51 pints of high-bush blueberry from the Blackwater State Forest. We also had seven pints of wild-collected blackberries (Rubus spp.) and our normal selection of smoking woods, jams, books, and a few potatoes and tomatoes. I thought it may be our best sales day ever, but it was not to be.

     Waking at 4:45 AM on Saturday morning, I immediately checked the Pensacola forecast. The Weather Channel predicted wind and rain all day and unfortunately, their prediction was accurate. I arrived at Palafox Street at 7:45 AM and sat in my Jeep until 8:00 before the rain let up enough forme to set up our stand. I made it through the next three hours with precipitation ranging from a light mist to outright downpours.

     A scattering of customers wandered through until the lightning started cracking all around. I took shelter in the Jeep as the bottom fell out. Water was running down my side of Palafox Street nearly 1 foot in depth and at a rapid clip. A gust of wind blew over our shelter, bending rods and potentially destroying our canopy frame. Our merchandise got soaked. Instead of making a few hundred dollars, this trip cost at least a couple hundred dollars in damaged goods.

     After packing up our waterlogged merchandise, I stopped by a local vegan eatery named “The End of the Line Café”. A friend, Christian Wagley had suggested they might pick up some of our wild-collected blueberries. Like several other businesses and houses downtown, the End of the Line Café had been flooded. Although they had a “Closed” sign in the window, they bought a dozen pints of blueberries to use for the coming week. Thanks for the tip Christian!

    I filled the Jeep with gas, stripped off my soaked clothing, and drove home in my underwear. After a good night’s sleep I prepared a breakfast of blueberry pancakes for Joseph, Katia, and myself. Then I got to work cranking out blueberry jam. I’ve already made 21 jars and I hope to make one or two more batches before I call it a day.

Speaking at the Alabama Book Festival

Alabama has one of the better book festivals in the Deep South http://alabamabookfestival.org/welcome.html . This year’s book festival will be held on Saturday, April 21st from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM in Old Alabama Town in downtown Montgomery.

I’ve attended the Alabama Book Festival for several years as an exhibitor for The Longleaf Alliance http://longleafalliance.org/. Every time I have attended the festival there have been: thousands of attendees, dozens of authors, and a fun-literary atmosphere.

This year will be different, because I have been invited to speak as a Featured Author!http://alabamabookfestival.org/past-festival-authors_1.html. But don’t worry. The Longleaf Alliance will still be an exhibitor. Vernon Compton is stopping to man the table in Montgomery before traveling back to Milton, Florida from another engagement.

I’ll drive up the night before the Alabama Book Festival to attend an authors’ reception where I’ll rub elbows with some fairly big names in contemporary southern literature: Wayne Flynt  http://www.uapress.ua.edu/product/Keeping-the-Faith,5207.aspx, Rheta Grimsley Johnson http://www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com/, Lisa Patton http://lisapatton.com/, Gin Phillips, http://www.ginphillips.com/ and many, many more.

Thus far, this is the high point of my tenure as an author. Now, if we can just get Don Noble to review my book on Public Radio…..

Year of The Pig in Five Newspapers

 #1  Kendra Bolling of the local Andalusia Star News was the first to write an article on the release of Year of The Pig.  The article was published at 12:00am Saturday, August 20, 2011


#2  This article was also tallied under “Reviews” but was originally published in the Mobile Press Register.  It was written by Nicholas H. Holmes III and it was published or republished to AL.com on Sunday, September 04, 2011, 1:31 PM .  http://blog.al.com/entertainment-press-register/2011/09/book_review_hunting_memoir_yea.html

#3  Ed Kitchen of the Linn County Leader did a great write-up for the Linn County Leader that was posted Nov 02, 2011 @ 09:54 AM


#4  This article is also tallied under “Reviews”, but because it came out in a newspaper, we’ll go ahead and cite it here.  It was written by Jeff Dennis and published in the Charleston Mercury on Tuesday, December 13, 2011 8:22 PM EST,



#5  I had fun during the interview with Valerie Garman of the Port St Joe Star.  Her article was published December 15, 2011 10:03 AM



Nine Reviews for Year of the Pig

I have been delinquent in attending to my website/blog www.Sweetbill.com, and there is much to write about. 

(This blog was updated to include a Washington Monthly Review on January 10, 2011)

Let’s start with nine reviews for Year of The Pig.   There are several reviews that I’ve found through search engines.  Other reviews were brought to my attention by my publisher –the University of Alabama Press.   These reviews may be divided into two categories:  reviews that were solicited by the University of Alabama Press; or reviews that I initiated by contacting newspapers or websites. 

Reviews Solicited by the University of Alabama Press:

#1           To date one of the most significant reviews came out September 1st in the Mobile Press Register.  It was article titled “Full Boar” that was written by Nicholas Holmes III and it may be located through a website that aggregates significant news from the state of Alabama.  http://blog.al.com/entertainment-press-register/2011/09/book_review_hunting_memoir_yea.html

NICHOLAS HOLMES III writes:  Hainds is also an avid (obsessed?) outdoorsman who has written this fun book of hunting tales featuring wild hogs as the quarry. While I have read many of the classic hunting stories, from Archibald Rutledge to Tom Kelly, I’m unaware of any that feature the hog. They may be out there, but I’ve not seen them. Thus this book is a welcome addition to the genre.

However, what is really special about the book is how the author weaves some serious current environmental concerns and ecological ideas, as well as discussions of hunters’ ethics, into his descriptions of the chase.


#2           Another oft-cited review comes from the Sierra Club.  I assume the University of Alabama Press sent them a review copy prior to the publish date, because this was another very positive and very early review.    http://sierraclub.typepad.com/greenlife/2011/06/book-review-wednesday-to-the-extreme.html

Feral pigs threaten vast portions of U.S. ecosystems, so Hainds, a forester, did good by spending 2007 hog-hunting in 11 states. Hainds’ anecdotes, titled by a tree of each different ecosystem, wield dry humor and the admirable values of a farmer’s son to critique the current state of hunting. His sympathetic intelligence suffuses this seriously funny nonfiction.


#3      From NYBooks.   This one falls under University Presses – General Interest and me be downloaded as a PDF file. 


#4  From Shelf Awareness, which describes itself thusly: “Shelf Awareness is a free e-newsletter about books and the book industry”.   http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ar/readers/2011-09-23/year_of_the_pig.html

From Shelf Awareness’s Review:  Death from bow, gun or knife–name it and Hainds has likely accomplished his task with a studied hobbyist’s glee, a marksman’s delicate precision and a comedian’s dry humor.

 #5  From  The Midwest Book Review and the “Pets Wildlife Shelf”.  http://www.midwestbookreview.com/calbw/dec_11.htm

 This is not easy to find on the page so I’ll post the entire review here: 

Year of the Pig
Mark J. Hainds
University of Alabama Press
Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0380
0817356703, $16.95, www.uapress.ua.edu

YEAR OF THE PIG provides a fine story of the hunter author’s pursuit of wild pigs in eleven American states, and is a power set of anecdotes that covers both hunting and ecosystem management. Chapters tell of Mark Hainds’ hunting through wetlands, forests, and swamp environments but they also document the wild pig’s impact on world ecology. While it reads like an adventure hunting story, it also comes packed with insights on wild pigs and their issues, and is recommended for hunting and ecology collections alike. 


Reviews I solicited. 

#6  Invasivore.org is a website that promotes eating invasive species.  After I contacted them about my book, they agreed to read it and post a review on their website. 


 Mathew at Invasivore writes:  I’m no hunter, but Mark J. Hainds’ Year of the Pig sharply hits the mark, with each tale of the hunt more exciting than the last.  The book provides the detailed personal account of Hainds’ journey to hunt feral pigs in ten states, appropriately during 2007, the Chinese calendar’s Year of the Pig.  Hainds uses guns, bows and arrows, and even dogs and knives to hunt pigs in a variety of dramatic scenes, keeping the reader engaged as he pursues his lofty goal and unrepentant quarry.

#7   do not believe I know Mr. Jeff Dennis who wrote this review for the Charleston Mercury titled “Invasive Swine Are Too High a Price to Pay for Sport.”  I was put in touch with Mr. Dennis through a friend in South Carolina and he read and reviewed the book. 


 FromMr. Dennis’s review: Outdoorsmen who think of themselves as keen observers will enjoy reading Year of the Pig, which is told first from the perspective of a hog hunter and second from the perspective of a naturalist.

#8  From the Florida Forest Steward, http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/Extension/FFSnl/ffsnl183.pdf.  Unlike the other reviewers, I do know Mr. Demers.  His review is titled “Year of The Pig”: A Great Read for Landowners, Managers and Outdoor Enthusiasts.

Chris Demers writes:  The book reveals much about wild pigs, the habitats to which they’ve adapted over the centuries and the challenge of hunting them. It also reveals much about the author – his hunting skills and ethics developed over a lifetime pursuing the
sport, his passion for the outdoors and land stewardship, as well as his patience and
sense of humor.

#9  The most recent review is from the “Washington Monthly.”  Titled “Boarish Behavior”, this review was written by Justin Peters and posted January 9th, 2012.  http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/januaryfebruary_2012/on_political_books/boarish_behavior034618.php

The review could best be categorized as mixed, but overall positive.  The opening paragraph from the review made me laugh out loud:  There comes a point in every man’s life when he realizes he hasn’t spent enough time killing feral pigs. For Mark Hainds, that point was 2007—the Year of the Pig, in the Chinese calendar—when he decided that too many pigs had been alive for too long, and that the only reasonable solution was to raid his retirement account and spend a year traveling the country, killing pigs in as many states as possible.

For those interested in the various locations/ecosystems I hunted Mr. Peters writes:
 His clear, precise descriptions of the different forests in which he hunts illuminate the variety of ecosystems under attack by wild pigs—and he makes a strong case that responsible pig hunting is a relevant and vital form of pest control in these endangered ecosystems.

A legitimate criticism of my work from Mr. Peters:   And too much attention is paid to the mechanics of each hunt—how it was planned, where he stayed when he got there, what time he had to wake up on the day of the hunt. An editor should have cut all this superfluous information. The interesting theme here is man vs. pig.

When he hits that theme, the book is excellent. In those segments, Hainds comes across as something of a rural American Ahab, ready to endure endless privations in the pursuit of his quest:



Pity the Squirrel


I’m having too much fun with readers’ responses.  If I can keep collecting reviews, observations, and questions of similar quality, I should be able to post regularly to my blog, even if I don’t have the time to think and type out original material on a semi-weekly basis. 

From John M.: 

I will keep looking for that truly bigfoot.  Did you send Dean a copy of your book?  If not, I’ll gladly drop one off at his house.  I finished reading it this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the read.  Any regrets for having shot the female squirrel and not the male squirrel?  Shooting the male squirrel would have been a scenario that most of us want; die instantaneously while in the throws of passion.   Of course probably the decent thing would have been to wait till he was finished.  Of course, if that squirrel was like me, you would have been waiting for hours and missed the opportunity to shoot pigs.  Similarly, if that squirrel was like Rhett that squirrel would have been done and out of there before you could get your crosshairs on him.   So, thinking out loud, you probably did the right thing shooting the female.

Tropical Storm Lee Drowns Book Sales

My Book Debut on September 1st is worthy of a blog entry all to itself, so I hope to come back to that event shortly.

I set myself a lofty goal in publicizing my book.  I would attend and promote Year of The Pig (YOTP) at 100 events before the one-year anniversary of my being published.  Because I already have a full-time job, I fully recognize the sacrifices this will entail.  I will spend as much time on the road with my book tour, as I had spent on the road hunting during the Year of The Pig

This is my first book.  While I am recognized within the small professional world that focuses upon restoring and managing the longleaf ecosystem, in the literary world I am a complete unknown.  For YOTP to have any chance of persisting and furthering my hoped for career as a published author, I must devote as much energy into publicity, as I invested in writing and publishing this book. 

My first event occurred in June, 2011, a little over two months before my official publish date of September 1st.  I was interviewed live for a web conference called Capital Ideas, by the Alabama Forest Owners Association (AFOA).  The audience, true to its name, is primarily forest landowners – a target demographic for my book.  http://www.afoa.org/CILive/CI1107.htm

In the week just before publishing, I stopped by our local newspaper to show them a copy of YOTP and tell them about the book debut.  It resulted in an article:  http://www.andalusiastarnews.com/2011/08/20/local-biologist-pens-novel-on-yearlong-feral-pig-hunt/

While this was valuable and appreciated coverage, I decided not to count this towards my goal of 100 Events.

Next, was an 8:15 AM live interview on August 31st with our local radio station – WAOO 103.7 FM out of Andalusia. http://www.waao.com/  Once again, it was great coverage the day before my book debut and because it required my active participation, I called this “Event #2”.

Event #3 was the Book Debut on September 1st.  It was a smashing success. 

Event #4 was a short notice book signing at my favorite local coffee and bakery in Andalusia – the Sugar Rush http://www.sugarrushbakery.com/  It was scheduled for Sept 2nd from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM.   Because I was slow in talking to a printer, I didn’t have posters and fliers quite yet.  I’m hoping to mail materials to future venues well before future scheduled signings. 

The Sugar Rush doesn’t have many author signings, but they thought my best chance for sales would be around the lunch hour.  They let me pull together two tables and I put up a large foam-board with the cover of my book, about five hog skulls with protruding tusks, and a stack of books.  I was ready to sell.

Eventually, a young lady walked over and asked me about YOTP.  I explained what it was about and she appeared intrigued.  She asked her husband if he had $17.00, and he forked it over for my first cold book sale.  

As the lunch crowd trickled in almost everyone avoided eye contact.   Apparently, a real live author with books was so far outside their comfort zone that they refused to even acknowledge my existence.   I penned an entry to my journal, “It is an incurious world in which we live.”

My next sale was to Karan, a friend who had already read my book and taken home three copies.  She stopped by to purchase copy #4 for a friend of hers.  I appreciatively signed it and handed it over.

I guarantee first-time authors – publishing a book gives your real friends an opportunity to shine.   I’ll never forget the many contributions that some of my friends and family made in bringing this project to fruition.   

At the end of two hours, I had sold three copies of YOTP.   It’s only 15 miles from my house to Sugar Rush, so my investment was a 30 mile round trip and three hours of my time.  From my discussions with other first-time authors, this wasn’t a bad outcome.  Perhaps I netted $1.00 an hour for my time. 

After Sugar Rush I swung by my house before driving about 125 miles south to Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama.  It was the First Friday Art Walk and there were supposed to be hundreds, perhaps even thousands of patrons walking the streets of Fairhope for the scheduled outing.  I had high hopes until I hit the outer bands of Tropical Storm Lee.   By the time I made it to Section Street, the bottom had fallen out and rain was falling in torrents. 

Page & Palette is one of the best known bookstores in Alabama and it is located in one of the most interesting communities in America.  Fairhope was founded many decades previously with the lofty goal of being a Socialist Utopia.  Just in case you didn’t buy or get that on the first reading, Fairhope was originally founded in Lower Alabama as a Socialist Utopia.  Look it up. 

Page and Palette pulls in thousands of tourists and some of the biggest name authors out there.  I was very happy for the opportunity to sign and sell my books at Page & Palette, and they had done a considerable amount of advertising prior to the First Friday Author Roundup.  http://www.pageandpalette.com/event/mark-j-hainds

There were five other authors in attendance and three of them had driven all the way from Decatur, Alabama.  Their trip made my 125-mile drive look like a short hop, skip, and a jump. 

There were four books on display in the small coffee shop at Page & Palette.  On the table to my left was In Search of Sanctuary by Jaime Kirby. She was self-published through Create Space, and the cover of her book was just gorgeous.   http://www.amazon.com/Search-Sanctuary-Jamie-Kirby/dp/1453778276/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315247798&sr=1-1

Sharing the same table with Jaime Kirby were her author relatives, referred to as “K. C. Lindberg.”  They also published their first book through Create Space: Rise of The Red Crescent.  Their book description reads “What if after 9/11, the terrorists moved into the US and then struck the nation from inside across the Eastern, Central, and Pacific times zones in coordinated and total surprise. This is the premise of Rise of the Red Crescent based on a dream and the research of a mother/son team in AL.”

Although I have not read it, their description to patrons came across as something akin to an updated “Red Dawn”. 

At one point, the son of the mother/son team that wrote Red Crescent glanced suspiciously at the book I was reading – The Family by Jeff Sharlett.  While his newly written and published book was a fictional story of Muslims rising up and conquering America, Mr. Sharlett’s book was a well documented nonfiction accounting of how one branch of Christian Fundamentists are seizing the levers of control in our goverment as we speak.  This made for an interesting dichotomy in our worldviews, and I pledged myself to avoid political discourse at all costs.   

I was the only author in the group who was not self-published.  Out of curiosity, I checked their Amazon sales rank two days after the event.  At that time, they were well ahead of YOTP.  This served to keep my “published author ego” well in check.

Ilene Baskette sat at another nearby table.  She is one of multiple authors of a childrens’ book series called Boat House Buddies: Deal With the Big Spillhttp://boathousebuddies.com/  I suggested that she contact a good friend of mine who is an author, producer, and director, named – Roger Reid.  Roger was a producer and director for a documentary film on the Gulf Oil Spill that one two Emmy Awards in 2011! 

http://discoveringalabama.org/   There may be room for collaboration with their educational efforts.

Tropical Storm Lee had virtually emptied the streets of Downtown Fairhope.  The crowd was quite sparse, but the hardy pedestrians who wandered into Page & Palette were much more receptive to interaction with the handful of authors on site.  I sold two books.

On the surface, it certainly appeared to be a poor investment of time and mileage.  Coffee, a hamburger, coffee, eight hours of my time, coffee, and a 250 mile round-trip worked out to about $100 dollars spent for each $1.00 earned in royalties. I think it was worth it.

Page & Palette had publicized my book in multiple media formats and thousands of people would potentially come across a blurb on my book.  Page & Palette had purchased multiple copies of YOTP and my book was displayed prominently.  Other big-name independent book stores in the South would see my name headlined at Page & Palette, so it should assist with booking future book signings.  Put simply, this was laying the necessary groundwork upon which I would structure my ongoing book tour. 

I drove home in the rain and got into bed about 11:30 PM. The alarm was set for 3:45 AM.  It would take about 2 hours in the early morning hours to prepare for the farmers’ market and two book signings on Saturday. 

It was raining when we got up.  Tropical Storm Lee had set up shop. While the precipitation was a welcome relief to the farms, forests, creeks, rivers, and lakes of the Deep South, the timing could have been a little better.

We pulled out of Harts Bridge Rd at 6:00 AM.  At 7:45 we pulled up to an empty Palafox Farmers Market. http://www.palafoxmarket.com/  They had just called the Market because of tornado advisories for the surrounding area.  Counting dismal sales at Page & Palette, Tropical Storm Lee had just claimed its second casualty – my 8:00-10:00 book signing at the Palafox Farmers Market.

This was starting to get into my pocketbook.  Beside potential book sales, we’d now lost an estimated $200-$250 dollars in sales of wild elderberries, wild muscadine grapes, pears, jams, jellies, smoking woods, and free range eggs. 

On the bright side, we all got to visit with Mom a bit more before her flight out of the Pensacola Regional Airport.  After that we made an early delivery of eggs and pears to the East Hill Market on Ninth Street and had plenty of time for the short drive to Ever’man Natural Foods http://www.everman.org/default.asp and my scheduled 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM book signing.

At the store, Elie, the Marketing & Membership Services took ten of my books.  Ever’man sells books at 15% below suggested retail so we had to agree upon a price to the author – me.  We conducted a backwards negotiation on the price where I offered a low price over cost and she negotiated me up.  Elie explained that Ever’man had scheduled this event for the local community and they wanted to support me as one of their vendors.  They are cool people!

When Elie saw my hog skulls, she made me promise to clean and prepare one of my recent kills so she could buy the skull for addition to her bone collection.  Elie is my type of girl!

11:00 arrived and I had an audience of one.  We conversed on longleaf pine and feral hogs while the staff made an announcement to customers in the store.  At 11:15 I started my PowerPoint presentation titled “Longleaf Pine, Foraging, and Year of The Pig.”  Halfway through my talk there were about a dozen seats filled. 

I sold six books directly and Ever’Man purchased the other four copies to sell off their book rack.  Of the four scheduled events on Friday & Saturday, this was the stand-out winner.