Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out? Where can we get it?
My latest book, A Cow Named John, is a true labor of love. It’s a collection of great memories of what we used to do on my aunt and uncle’s farm; a time without toys. All we had were farm animals, the land, and our imagination. It came out in August, 2012, and can be purchased through Amazon, Solstice Publishing, or Barnes & Noble if you have a Nook.
Is there anything that prompted your latest book? Something that inspired you?
As I see how kids today are so disconnected from family, it saddens me. They’ll spend hours texting their friends, but not a word to their siblings. Family is very important! So, I wrote A Cow Named John to show the world the humorous and nostalgic side of growing up on a farm.
Great! So, when did you know you wanted to write? Or has it always been a pastime of yours?
I wrote a play in the 6th grade and had a lot of fun directing it. But my dad didn’t approve of the arts and pushed me into business courses in high school. Then after he died, his adopted mom listed him as a “stranger that assumed their name” in her will. I was so hurt by this that I wrote my first novel, No One’s Son. It’s a real tearjerker. Now, I write for the fun of it.
Do you have any favorite authors?
Stephen King, Dean Koontz, plus the classics like Dickens and Steinbeck. There are so many good writers out there! I’ll choose a book just from its title, and I’m seldom disappointed.
Do you write in a specific place? Time of day?
I have a “hobby” room that’s mine exclusively where I draw, write, sew, and do puzzles. You can find me there anytime of the day.
Are there any words you’d like to impart to fellow writers? Any advice?
Don’t try to get rich by writing. Only the few get there - - very few. Write only if it’s what you love and you have something to say.
Why did you name your cow John? After all, John is a boy's name.
Twelve-year-old Mike Elsasser lives on a farm in 1950s Nebraska. John is his favorite cow – she lets him go cow skiing with her in the mud. He constantly gets asked about her name, but he doesn't feel like explaining. "Just because," he tells them.
Then one day, John gets lost…
…And even worse, Mike finds himself saddled with his younger cousin, Gaylyn, a girl who smiles all the time and doesn’t know anything.
While John gets up to odd adventures, the two children have adventures of their own. They fight mosquitoes, make their own ice cream, find a secret passage and risk electrocution in irrigation trenches. They get involved in the trickery of fishing and the hunting of snipe. They learn horse tricks, escape an angry sheep, keep their trickster uncle at bay, and even survive a tornado!
A Cow Named John is a nostalgic and humorous story about children on a farm, their antics, and how work can feel like play – and how the search for John can be just as fun as actually finding her.
Yes. You asked for it. We do have an excerpt from A Cow Named John. Enjoy!
Two weeks before the fourth of July in 1959, the Elsasser family slept as black, billowy clouds hung in the night, blocking the moon and stars. The lightning cracked; chirping crickets lay silent. Buzzing grasshoppers, the babbling spring, and fish and pollywogs nipping at mosquitoes, all were silent too. Nothing made any noise to alarm the family of John’s intent.
John’s nose rubbed against the rough rope fibers that held her captive and kept her from exploring. Higher and higher went the rope, until at last, it went over the top of the post and fell to the ground below. John was free! Free to roam. Free to run. Free to be.
A coyote yelped and yipped such news, but the family didn’t stir. Hungry was this coyote. Hungry to the bone.
Twelve-year-old Mike Elsasser crouched in the barnyard the next morning and put his right index finger in his mouth. Getting it nice and wet, he stuck it in the air to check which way the wind blew. He didn’t want Old Red to smell his scent as he snuck up on her.
“Sow, boss,” whispered Mike, as he crept quietly behind the cow. Last night’s summer storm made the ground perfect for this: all wet and slippery. He inched closer. When he was within reach of the cow’s tail, Mike grabbed it and hollered, “Whoop, whoop!”
The startled cow jumped in fright and ran for her life, dragging Mike along! He hung onto her tail, fighting to stay on his feet over the wet, slippery mud. Cow skiing wasn’t easy, and he prided himself on being pretty good at it.
“Whoop, whoop!” Mike repeated, throwing one arm in the air. He skied for almost thirty feet before falling over. He looked up from the mud and watched Old Red run to the safety of the barn. He laughed.
“Crazy cow!” he yelled. He got up and brushed himself off. Hope Dad doesn’t find out this time, he thought. He’d sure be angry if he knew that I tried to ski behind another cow.
Mike walked into the barn and patted the backside of Bessie as she stood eating hay. “Sow boss,” he said, while taking a wet cloth from his hip pocket. He wiped the cow’s teat clean and then sat on the three-legged stool to milk her.
Three kittens came over and he squirted them with milk, much to their delight. After he finished milking Bessie, he moved on to Molly and milked her too. Done, he picked up the milking pails, groaning from the weight.
Mike had blond hair and blue eyes like his dad, with lean muscles from carrying milk from the barn to the white, wood-framed bunkhouse, a porch-length away from the farmhouse. They used the basement under the bunkhouse only in case of tornadoes. Hired hands, the men who used to help work the farm, and their beds were long gone, but it still held an old wood-burning stove and a milk separator. The separator looked like a large stainless steel funnel on legs. It had a crank handle like on the front of an old-timey car.
Mike set two buckets under the large funnel and poured the milk in the top. Taking hold of the crank handle with both hands, he began turning it in a continuous circle. The large metal funnel spun around and around until the cream separated from the milk. The milk filtered down one side of the funnel, and the cream filtered down the other side.
Once this was done, Mike took the cream and milk to his mom. One day, thought Mike, I’m going to move off this farm, away from this town, and then I won’t have to do all this milking. I’m going to buy my milk from the store, just like city folks.
Mike lived in Brady, Nebraska, a small town shaped like a horseshoe off Highway 30, just east of North Platte. Brady couldn’t be found on any map, and a house number wasn’t needed in the address on letters. With a population of 240 people, the mailman delivered the mail by just the name on the envelope.
Unlike the city, the town had no paved roads, only dirt, and it had wooden walkways in front of each establishment. The restaurant behind the gas station had most of the local branding irons tacked up around the walls as its décor. The town also had a bank, a drug store, a post office, a feed store, and a community center, where every Saturday night people would come to square dance. An outdoor movie theater used the white wall of the drug store as a movie screen. Logs split in half and placed on the ground served as benches, and other logs outlined where walls would have been. The best part? It was free to watch.
“Take your boots off,” Mike’s mother, Evelyn, reminded him as he put the milk and cream into the refrigerator. “And go wash up for dinner.”
Evelyn was a slim, pretty woman. Her blue eyes contrasted with her black hair, which she tied up in a bun to keep out of her face.
Mike did as he was told, and then walked to his room without saying a word. He tossed his straw cowboy hat on his bed and went to the farmhouse’s one bathroom to wash up. The bathtub stood on four legs in the corner, and they didn’t have a shower.
He heard the screen door bang shut and knew it was his dad.
“Where’s Mike?” asked his father, Arno.
“In the bathroom,” said Evelyn. “Why? What did he do now?”
“I think he’s been cow skiing again. I got to the barn just after Mike left and Old Red’s acting all nervous and upset. Dang kid! I’ve told him a hundred times not to do that!”
Arno was a fair-minded man, but also hot tempered, and he had a short fuse. His good looks – almost six feet tall, blond wavy hair, blue eyes, and long dimples on the sides of his face that showed off straight white teeth when he smiled – hid his quick temper.
Mike listened to his parents’ conversation through the open bathroom door. Oh man, he thought, should I lie or should I come out with it?
Mike dried his hands and walked into the kitchen: time to face the music.
Gail Picado was born in 1949. In high school, she loved to draw and write, but her father discouraged her, saying that there were too many starving artists, so instead, she took typing and bookkeeping, always working in an office.
As a child, her parents would take her and her siblings to her aunt and uncle’s farm in Brady, Nebraska, every summer to spend time with their cousins. She spent many hours learning chores that seemed more like play, and each chore created a good memory. There were no toys, but the animals were all the toys any child would need. This is how A Cow Named John was created.
Gail’s first novel, No One’s Son, published in 1991, is based on her father’s life. She and her husband reside in California and have three daughters.