Letters of the West 6th year anniversary: Reflecting on our book.  By Michelle Walch

Letters of the West 6th year anniversary: Reflecting on our book. By Michelle Walch

Six years ago, our children’s ABC book about nature, Letters of the West, was released.   I got the book idea around the time our daughter turned one, and my baby blues was starting to subside.  Now seems like the perfect time to look back.  What we have learned since the book hit the shelves?

Origin story: the book that came out of baby blues

Tragedy plus time equals comedy.  We’ve heard that one.  Whistling past the graveyard is another.  Songs, stories, art, distractions, especially creative distractions, are suvival techniques.  They can be cautionary tales.  Almost always they are marketing tools (guilty).  My own low-moment story happened when baby blues hit me really heard.  With the 2008 crash, I was unable to find work.  But amid the darkness light appears unexpectedly.  And that became the way out.

How did John and I come up with the book idea?  By now most have heard the story:  I was reading Awake to Nap by Nikki McClure to our nearly one-year-old daughter.  I really enjoyed the book’s artwork.  It reminded me of John’s nature artwork.  Maybe we could do an ABC book about nature?

John liked the idea and set to work.  We researched flora and fauna, which was fun.  Many subjects for letters were traditional: D for deer, C for cougar.

But we used a few that we hadn’t seen before: kinnikinnik,  pairie dog.

In the end we surprised ourselves with using Mount Hood for the beginning and ending: A for Alpenglow and Z for Zigzag, as in Zigzag, Oregon.

Talk Latin to me

John wanted to put the Latin words in the book.  What?  Really?  Later, our publisher liked that idea as well.  Turns out others like that too, even if  just scholars use it now. After all, we thought, it was a living language once that little children spoke as they were getting into their school togas back in Rome.

X is for Xeriscape

I am proud of X for Xeriscape.  Xeriscape is a low water landscape garden design. Why this works for the book:

  • Not all of Oregon is a lush, green, tree-scape.  Much of the state is desert.  I wanted to acknowledge that.
  • Low-water landscape design is relevant because of global warming.  Conserving water in the desert is a practical approach.
  • These abecedaries (what, you didn’t know that ABC books have their own designation?) almost always use xylophone or X-ray for the letter “X”. I wanted to be more original.  Ok sure, xylophone is Greek for “wooden sound,” and that’s not too far from the nature theme of our book.  But I wanted to do something different.

The 2008 economic crash, and rising from the ashes

John finished the artwork in 2010.  Meanwhile the economy was moving through a slow recovery, as a result we had our doubts of getting published.  John researched self-publishing, but that could be expensive.  He researched other options such as Create Space.  We opted not to go that route.

I worked with my solo business advisor Jackie B. Peterson at Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center.  She thought the artwork was fantastic and urged us to market it.

Signed by Portland-based publisher Craigmore Creations in 2013

In 2013 we finally decided to send book submissions to publishers.  We got a response within the first three sent out.  Next thing we new, Portland-based publisher Craigmore Creations offered us a a very nice book deal.

Getting a book published is the height of most anyone’s career; an aspiration of many but achieved by few.  The validation speaks loudly.  Just someone picking up the publication costs, having the muscle to market it, and handle distribution is a dream.  And it helped.  We were nominiated for the 2014 Oregon Spirit Award to boot!  Pretty damn good for first time authors!

But it doesn’t pay the rent, even if our title was the top seller for August 2015 of all Craigmore Creations titles at that time.

Regardless, Letters of the West, An ABC Book of the Many Plants, Animals, and Other Curious Features of the West (the full name) continues to find new fans.

Things I didn’t know (oopsies)

Since getting published, I’ve learned a couple things about the the book’s subject matter.  Things I was not aware of:

  • Juniper is actually invasive.  I didn’t know this.  Personally, I’ve always loved juniper: the smell, how the tree looks, and it reminds me of camping trips as a kid.  According to Oregon Invasive Species, juniper trees started becoming a problem starting in 1936 as a result of how grasslands are managed.
  • Yucca plants are not exactly invasive but can be a nuisance.  They have extensive root systems and difficult to remove according to Gardening Know How.

Naturalist Numbers, the counting book, is next

Letters of the West takes place on land, if you will.  Naturalist Numbers, the forthcoming book, features many ocean-dwellers.  Five out of the ten subjects are sea creatures.  This is interesting to note.  Many marine animals have uneven features, or so it would seem: seven fins of the flying fish, five teeth of the sea urchin.  Five to a million arms of the sea star.

Additionally, from a marketing perspective, it may be challenging to sell both books together.  Letters of the West is perfect for KOA Kampground at Mount RushmoreNaturalist Numbers, however, might sell better at a KOA on the California coast.  Remains to be seen!

Do you have a copy of our book?  Thoughts on it or the next book?  Leave a note in the comments.

Share this post with others who would like our book.

Michelle Walch writes about women’s health, healthy aging, and rural health and aging.  She also plays theremini.


Need a T-shirt, hoodie, or sticker for that summer festival? Shop my 13th Floor Designs store on Teespring!

Crazy clowns!  Skulls!  Peace symbols!  Cornerstone emblems of summer festivals!  Want to get some swag that shows your personal flair?  Go to my 13th Floor Designs and shop.

I love drawing flaming skulls and other cartoony stuff.  It’s fun to go all out.  And it is fun to see people wearing my designs.

I put the designs up on Teespring, which has a good rep for T-shirts and whatnot. Here’s a few of the designs, and a link to my main storefront page there.

And here’s where to go to find this material. Have fun! https://teespring.com/stores/13th-floor-designs?aid=marketplace&tsmac=marketplace&tsmic=campaign

Remember The Man Shop in Molalla, Oregon? It’s now The Main Shop. It’s a gallery featuring local arts, crafts, including Letters of the West.


Ken and Rebecca Fetters want to attract creative business to Molalla. Rebecca is a social worker and Ken is a carpenter. Since they took over the shop, they have cleaned it up. The original colorful cabinets and wood panelling is still there, making a fun, retro ambience in the shop. “There is a shop in North Portland on Lombard which has the exact same cabinets and layout. The same contractor must’ve built this place too,” according to Ken.

I talk with Ken Fetters about the origins of The Main Shop, and what he and Rebecca hope for the future.

So how did this start? Ken: “I run with the Molalla Running Club with Lindsey and John Knapp. A few years ago Lindsey opened a pop up store which featured local artists and makers. I though this was a great idea. So many  small towns need a place for the locals to show their talents. I chose Molalla because this is where we live it’s nice to do something to improve your community.”

Why did you choose The Man Shop? “The  man shop was not a focus it just fell into place. I had been looking at some other buildings over the past few years with no success. Since we bought the Man Shop it seems it was meant to be. There is a lot of memories for people in that store and I hope people will appreciate that we have tried to keep some of the history there.”

How is everything going so far? “We are new at this so  are kind of letting things develop.,” Ken explains. “So far everyone from the city hall to the artists/creators have been great.  I guess the theme would be a little history a little Molalla a little funky.”

What’s in the future? “Get people to walk Molalla. There are businesses we are partnering with to get people to walk Main Street.  We have purchased the old Molalla Pioneer building and working on creating another space to attract people to town.”

The Main Shop Hours: Thursday 10-5 Friday 10-7 Saturday 10-7 Sunday 11-4


Yellowstone Road Trip 2018, or How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

Guest Post by Michelle Walch

Photo of Michelle Walch, John Maddin, & Bahiyyih Walch-Maddin at Yellowstone
Walch-Maddins at the Yellowstone NP West Entrance, August 2018.

We had been planning our trip to Yellowstone for sometime. Finally the stars had aligned: we have the car, the paid time off save up, and a book to promote! It could not get any better could it? I had AAA do a TripTik for me to help with the adventure. One note about this: I should have been more clear with AAA about my desire to avoid mountain passes with high elevations. Turned out our car performed just fine. We ended up doing a bit more backtracking that could have been avoided as well as saving unnecessary miles. Next time I’ll be more efficient.

Our children’s book Letters of the West was published in 2014. We had long dreamed of getting the book into a gift shop at Old Faithful. Since Letters of the West has that kind of rustic, textured look to it and the subject matter of nature in the North American West, we knew it would be a good fit.

Photo of Grand Tetons and Lake Jenny
Grand Tetons in the background, Lake Jenny in the foreground, August 2018.

In 1985 I visited Old Faithful with my parents and brother. We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn when it was about $35 a night (seriously). Traveling around and sleeping in on (in?) a super-volcano is truly awe-inspiring. It is otherworldly. Yellowstone was once called Hell’s Half Acre. Steam ominously rises in alternately obvious and unsuspecting places. Each geyser is different. Old Faithful is elegant as ever, though it no longer erupts once an hour – more like once every hour and a half now. Other noteworthy geysers include the Grand and Castle Geysers, each with it’s own personality.

Photo of Grand Prisim Geyser Spring, August 2018
Grand Prisim Geyser Spring, August 2018

We did plenty of driving and walking in the heat. That was the most difficult part on the first couple of days: global warming was especially evident on this trip. It was 104 degrees F when we were at Old Faithful. I got heat exhaustion at the end of the day (2nd time in summer 2018). Totally worth it.

Hanging out at the Old Faithful Inn is still one of my top favorite things. Old Faithful Inn is a perfect example of National Park Service rustic or Parkitecture. I love the log cabin look taken to the nth degree. I could hang out in the Inn for days and never tire of the park ethos. The Frank Lloyd Wright-looking desks are still there, I expect the same ones I sat at when I was there in 1985.

In between pushing the book, we thoroughly enjoyed the natural splendor of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and Craters of the Moon. Yellowstone is an artists’ paradise. Including but not limited to Artist Paint Pots geysers. The layers and textures of the landscapes is truly breathtaking. One could bask for months on end and find some new color or pattern in the environs. When we drove from West Yellowstone Entrance and into the Park there was a sign that told us when we left Montana and entered Wyoming. John would ask our daughter Bahiyyih: “See how the sky is smaller here? We are no longer in Big Sky Country.” More bad dad jokes. (Hey, you can’t have a family trip without bad jokes from Dad! John)

Photo of Grand Tetons, Wyoming
Grand Tetons, Wyoming


Photo of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone NP
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone NP, August 2018

It was good to to meet other travelers as well. It had been awhile since we had been on a journey where we could talk with a variety of people and hear of their travel experiences, hear their impressions and get recommendations. We stayed at a couple of Kampgrounds of America (KOA) on this trip. I wanted to glamp. Sure it’s cheesy and not exactly cheap (that is, if we had stayed in a real campground it would have been about $40 per night). But I was looking for something that was sort of camping but with appropriate level of amenities – I need a shower, darn it. We had meaningful conversations with tour guides who were shuttling around a family of Japanese tourists. Why on earth would tourists from Japan want to stay at a KOA?, we asked. Why not go for a more “real” camping experience or stay in a luxury hotel? It was explained to us that traveling in an RV and staying at KOA, its kawaii-aesthetic (see what I did there) and occasional theme-park experience schtick is precisely what some travelers from outside they U.S. are looking for. Cutesy cabins and put put golf are perfect for a family looking for that quintessential American experience.

We really did have great experience staying at the KOAs in Jackson, Wyoming on the Snake River, Yellowstone West Entrance in Montana, and at Arco, Idaho while visiting the Craters of the Moon. So far, the Jackson, Wyoming and Arco, Idaho KAO campgrounds purchased 10 copies of Letters of the West. Both campgrounds were really happy with the book. The Arco, Idaho campground put up a really nice display and we did an impromptu authors’ visit. The owners were all very nice and made a pleasant experience.

If there was one complaint we had, it was that we never got to see any buffalo or bears in the Park, except for one small bison herd waaaaaayyyyyy off in the distance, just north of the Grand Tetons. Apparently we came at the wrong time of year to see the bison in the northern part of the Park. We did see some elk, and a lone wolf, and a couple of moose, so some of the Major Wildlife checkmarks were made, but no bison/buffalo or bear. So…. On our way out of Yellowstone, coming down the highway from West Yellowstone, we decided to bite the tourist cheese and go to Bear World, the wildlife park outside of Rexburg, ID on Hwy 20. And boy did we get our bear and bison thang taken care of; there were more bears in that park than you could shake a barrel of honey at, and as for the bison, it’s a very humbling moment when one of these majestic creatures ambles on to the car path and you realize it is MUCH bigger than the station wagon you’re driving. Bahiyyih was going nuts.

Photo of Bison at Bear World
If’n you don’t see Bison in Yellowstone NP, plunk down a bit of your hard earned at Bear World in Idaho. AAA discount!


Photo of Bears at Bear World
Bear World Bears, August 2018

This trip was the first two week trip John and I had been on in ten years. It was our daughter’s first two week trip. I’m so glad we did this, but it was hot. Really hot. Smoke from the wildfires was especially evident in the Pendleton, Oregon area. A gloomy testament to global warming. The heat and long days spent driving was really difficult for her. But seeing animals and geothermal activity did make up for it.

Yellowstone Recap List:

1. Miles traveled: 2000+++

2. Highest elevation: 8500 feet, going through the Grand Tetons into Jackson, Wyoming.

3. T-shirt 1: “Isn’t Texas cute?” Picture of Texas in a picture of Alaska.

4. T-shirt 2: “I don’t need Google. My wife knows everything.”

5. Number of geysers seen: lost count.

6. Highest temperature: 104 degrees Fahrenheit, August 12, 2018, Old Faithful Village .

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park?  What was your favorite part?  Write your answers in the comments!

Like this article?  Share!

Michelle Walch is a healthcare and wellness blogger.  She lives with John and their daughter Bahiyyih in rural Oregon.

(Note:  This article was completed just before the Federal Shutdown of December 2018.  This article does not go into really any detail about the Yellowstone Supervolcano, mabye because secretly we hope that engineers will harness the thermal hydraulics thereby constructively unleashing all that energy.  One can dream!)







You’ve landed at the site of illustrator John Maddin. Both private and commissioned work is presented here, as well as some information about the wonderful medium of Scratchboard. In the future I hope to have some how-to videos on this art form. In the meantime, feel free to wander.