Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

May 26, 2013

Author mines family history for new book

TRAVERSE CITY — Mardi Jo Link lost her marriage, her horse, half her income and a season’s supply of food — all in one year.

And that’s just for starters.

Link, author of two true crime books based in northern Michigan, turned to her own life for her latest book, “Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm” (Alfred A. Knopf). The irreverent yet poignant memoir about her struggle to save her farm and her family following a 2005 divorce is set for release June 11.

“I think when I got divorced, that was already enough of an interruption in my sons’ lives that I didn’t want to add moving to that,” said Link, 51, who was determined to hold on to the farm despite emotional, physical and financial hardships. “And also having that little mini-farm was my dream and I didn’t want to give it up. I was a little naive in what it would take to keep it up.”

The six-acre farm in East Bay Township is called “The Big Valley,” after the 1960s TV western that inspired it. It boasts a century-old farmhouse, a barn and chicken coops, and a large vegetable garden with everything from asparagus to tomatoes.

At the time, farm animals included 25 chickens and two each of horses, dogs, cats and pigs.

Maintaining it all as a single woman took grit, hard work and ingenuity, said Link, who enlisted the help of sons Owen, Luke and Will and channeled Barbara Stanwyk’s “The Big Valley” character, a strong family matriarch. Setbacks included an unusually hard winter, the death of one of the horses after being struck by a car, and the loss of the family’s freezer and its contents.

“That was a particularly snowy winter and we couldn’t afford to have the driveway plowed,” recalled the author, who supported herself by editing a local children’s book and writing freelance articles. “It’s a really long driveway, about 100 yards, and the boys and I just shoveled it. I remember on snow days they wanted to sit inside and watch cartoons and I’m sending them out with shovels.

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