Meet the Writers, Episode #3: Mardi Link is a ‘Bootstrapper’ you should get to know

mardi link

This installment of Meet the Writers features Mardi Jo Link. Mardi is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller, Wicked Takes the Witness Stand (U. of Mich. Press). She studied journalism at Michigan State University and has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her memoir, Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm (Knopf) won the Great Lakes Bookseller’s Choice Award, the Housatonic Award for Creative Nonfiction, was named a Michigan Notable Book and was optioned for film by Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weitz. Mardi is currently the writer fellow at Front Street Writers, a public school program in Michigan co-sponsored by the National Writers Series and the Traverse Bay Area Independent School District. She is married, the mother of three grown sons, and lives in northern Michigan on the small farm profiled in Bootstrapper.

What is your favorite book?

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. It stunned me when I read it the first time in 1994, after it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and I re-read it every couple years just to be reminded of what real literary mastery looks like. I don’t write fiction, and I actually don’t read a lot of fiction, and yet this book has taught me so much about structure, about pacing, about a love of words, and character destiny and those lessons transcend genre. And, here’s a mind-blower about my personal relationship to this book. I was adopted as an infant in a closed adoption. When I was 30 I found and met my birthmother. Meeting me and re-visiting what she’d been through regarding my relinquishment was very hard for her so we lost touch. Fast-forward fifteen years, when I learned from a biological aunt that my birthmother had died. She’d taken her favorite books with her for her long hospital stay leading up to her death, and would I want those books? At this point, you can guess the end. Yes, I wanted the books, yes my aunt mailed them to me, and yes, included in the box and sitting right on top pretty as you please was a copy of The Shipping News. 

You did true crime and now you’ve done memoir – what are the challenges of each, is one more rewarding? Is one more natural?

You did true crime and now you’ve done memoir – what are the challenges of each, is one more rewarding? Is one more natural?

 Can you find two books more different than memoir and true crime? At least, not unless I turned to crime myself and then wrote about it, but I’m way too tenderhearted for that! The challenges of memoir, especially for someone like me that started her writing career as a journalist, is to get comfortable using the word “I.” To report on myself, to make me the story. That was hard. I read a lot of memoirs by journalists to see how they did it, my favorite being, All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. The challenge of true crime is accuracy first, availability of data second, and personal safety third. The memoir was more mind-altering, the true crime more natural. I’ve been told I have an over-developed sense of justice. That I can’t let anything go. That personality quirk created the personal decisions that led to the life challenges I write about in Bootstrapper; and allow me to be relentless researching my true crime books. Believe me, I’ve looked for a thru-line between these two areas of interest, and that’s what I’ve been able to come up with. Both memoirs allowed me to forgive myself my failings; the true crime allows me to channel feelings of anger and yes, even obsession, over injustice.

Tell us about your writing background and what part of the process is most challenging?

My parents are teachers, and I grew up with a love of books, getting books as presents for birthdays and Christmas, being read to, and later, being told I’d be a writer someday because I read so, so much and carried around a notebook and edited a little neighborhood newsletter. I didn’t take too well to being told what I was going to be when I finally got out on my own, so I decided I would be a veterinarian and went to a college that had a renowned veterinary program. That dream ended at the end of a rubber glove donned for Dairy Herd Management 101 at which point I changed my major to journalism. I worked as a reporter for an incredible family-owned newspaper in New England, Foster’s Daily Democrat, where, to keep your job, you had to write 4 stories per day. Believe me, if you ever thought your writing was precious, that will cure you of that notion lickety split. I started writing books after that, in order to work at home so I could monitor my kids. I’ve got three sons, all grown and upstanding citizens they be now, but there was time when they needed some maternal supervision and writing at home allowed that.

Tell us about your work in progress.

I have two. One long term, that is a labor of love and will take several years to write and research, and another shorter term that has its hook in me and will take, oh, maybe two years to research and write. The former is a family history about two of my biological ancestors, sisters, kidnapped by Delaware Indians at the start of the French and Indian War. Benjamin Franklin sent riders, guns, and dogs to their rescue but that effort failed and one sister eventually rescued herself and two other captives, while the other sister decided to stay with the tribe. The latter is a true crime book about a 1883 case in southern Michigan involving amateur detectives, the Pinkerton’s, a club foot,  purebred cattle, and long-simmering family jealousy.  

BONUS: Your thoughts on grits and hoop cheese?

Hoop chese ain’t nuthin’ special. We have many cheeses here in the midwest to recommend themselves. However, grits? Now there you southerners really out-did yourselves. Especially when served with shrimp.


To check out Mardi’s books, click here.