By: L.B. Mendel, 2010
iUniverse, 252 p., paperback
In Mammoth, one could fall into the mindset that this town’s issues and problems are unique. Buried in snow for more than half the year, it is easy to lose sight of the outside world and the fact that other small ski towns deal with the same problems regarding development and expansion, kids getting into trouble with drugs because they have nothing better to do, etc.
I found myself guilty of this very thing when I made the assumption that a new book by L.B. Mendel was based on Mammoth because of the issues it raises. In my mind, Yard Sale was telling Mammoth’s story. It describes a town full of A-frames and dated condo complexes, development activists and environmentalists duking it out over what is best for the town, an unequal ratio of male to female residents, and the goal of becoming a destination resort. After interviewing Yard Sale’s author, L.B. Mendel, however, I realized that even though Mammoth did help fuel her writing fire, it’s not all about us.
Sheet: Is this the first novel you’ve written, or just the first you’ve published?
L.B. Mendel: It’s the first novel I’ve published. Like most writers, I have several unfinished manuscripts in a box. For years I suffered from what I call the “page 60 problem”—as in, I couldn’t get to page 61. Thankfully, that’s behind me.
Sheet: What is your “day job?”
LBM: I taught eighth-grade English before partnering with some friends to start a non-profit called THINK Together that runs after-school programs. I retired from education in 2004 in order to pursue writing full time.
Sheet: How long have you been visiting and skiing in Mammoth?
LBM: I’ve been visiting and skiing in Mammoth for 25 years. For the past 11 years we’ve been homeowners and part-time residents.
Sheet: How long did it take you to write “Yard Sale”?
LBM: Five years. Sometimes it seemed like ten.
Sheet: There’s a part in the book where Hart references and explains the title. Was that the portion of the book that came to you first, and then you built around it, or did you write the book and then pull the title from that section?
LBM: I saw yard sale as a metaphor for the changes and challenges that occur when we least expect them from the beginning. From that perspective, yes, I built around it. But I didn’t actually think of using it as the title until very late in the process.
Sheet: A lot of what’s going on in Yard Sale is extremely similar to the heavy development days Mammoth experienced a few years ago, all the way down to the land trade that the ski area did with the Forest Service. Was Mammoth your inspiration for this book? If not, what was it that did inspire you to write about development in a small town?
LBM: I wanted to write about how both people and places “come of age,” that is, change and grow with time. I’ve watched Mammoth face all sorts of growth-related challenges over the past 25 years, so in that sense it was definitely an inspiration.
Ski towns are a little off the beaten path as far as fictional settings go, which helps my book stand out. And resort towns in general are unique and beautiful places, but the very features that draw people to them also create conflicts. As a fictional setting, that pretty much makes a ski town a home run.
The idea for the fraudulent land swap in the book came from an actual exchange in Colorado in which a 240-acre in-holding in a wilderness area was swapped for 105 acres in Telluride. You can’t even make up stuff that outrageous.
Sheet: If you weren’t inspired by Mammoth then where did the phrase, “you don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your turn,” and the goal of Devil’s Creek to become a destination resort come from?
LBM: I’d love to give Mammoth credit for the expression “you don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your turn,” but, alas, I’ve heard it in ski towns in Colorado and Utah too. And since I even heard it in a small village in Alaska, I can only assume it’s ubiquitous in places where the male-to-female ratio is so lopsided.
Mammoth’s aspiration to be a destination resort has been the flashpoint for a lot of conflict over the years, and conflict is a writer’s bread and butter.
Sheet: Did you go to planning commission or other town meetings, or dive into small town politics in any way for research?
LBM: I’ve attended both planning and scoping meetings, though none of them were in Mammoth. I drew on my experiences in those situations, coupled with background from The Sheet and your competition and a healthy dose of imagination, to write the book.
Sheet: Are any of the characters based on real life people, specifically people from Mammoth? Jack Severson, for example, seems to have a similar background to Dave McCoy, and Sandy Grant has a strong resemblance to Andrea Meade Lawrence. Plus their relationship has the same type of strains. Also, the Coalition seems to act in the same way as the Advocates for Mammoth.
LBM: I consider Jack Severson to be the anti-Dave, in the sense that Jack was driven by ego and ambition, rather than love for a sport and a place. I think Jack has a lot more in common with Alex Cushing, who founded Squaw Valley.
Andrea Mead Lawrence’s activism inspired me to create the Sandy Grant character. As far as the fictional Community Coalition, I drew on the history around the Friends of Mammoth, the Advocates predecessor.
Sheet: As I was reading I would often put the book down for a few days just to see if I could guess what would happen next because it seemed as if you were telling Mammoth’s story on a macro level. Was that the affect you hoped to have on those living in small mountain towns?
LBM: Here’s a funny thing: my friends who live in Park City swear that “Yard Sale” is about their town. So I guess the story does capture the mountain town experience on a macro level.
Sheet: How factual, if at all, do you consider your book?
LBM: I tried to make the place and people feel as real as possible, especially for readers unfamiliar with the ethos of a ski town. But if by factual you mean true, then it’s not factual at all.
Sheet: The book was recognized as a finalist for the Indie Excellence Award, any other awards?
LBM: Not yet!
Sheet: Why did you decide to self publish? Would you recommend it to other writers?
LBM: I opted to self publish because my research on traditional publishing indicated that their business model is DOA. Both movies and music have already undergone the indie revolution that is now overtaking the book business. I would recommend this route for new writers because unless you’re a celebrity or someone with a string of successful books, the chances of getting a contract are almost nonexistent. But it’s kind of like recommending that someone have a root canal, to be honest. I don’t know of any company that people rave about.
Yard Sale is available locally at Spellbinder in Bishop and the Booky Joint in Mammoth Lakes.