Friday, December 13, 2013

Maureen Ogle's "In Meat We Trust"

Maureen Ogle is a historian and the author of several books, including Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America, and reported the following:
Oh, page 99. I laughed when I realized what was on it: 300 words of narrative/explanation that had been born as some 15,000 or so words and then tried out in what are now chapters 2 and 3 and 5 and 6 before finally landing in Chapter 4. Which is another way of saying that I’m a historian, not a “writer.” I struggle to find and maintain a narrative. It’s a Major Life Moment when I finally distill the essence and figure out where that piece of the story should go.

In the case of page 99, it’s the height (or depths) of the Great Depression and I explain how and why a man named Jesse Jewell built a poultry-producing empire in northern Georgia. The page is part of a chapter that ranges from the early 20th century to the 1950s, and explains how and why “factory” farming emerged in the U. S. It was the hardest chapter to write (primarily because I had to figure out how to convey a great deal of information without turning the entire chapter into an information dump).

But because I decided to use Jewell as my “main character,” that meant I also had to understand and explain the creation of the modern poultry industry. Turned out, however, that there was essentially no existing research on that subject. I had to start from scratch and figure out what happened, when, and why.

When readers read page 99, they learn something about Jesse Jewell. When I read page 99, I see a three-month research slog and 15,000 words written in order to make sense of that research, all of it distilled to 300 words of digestible information. It is, in short, a page that reminds me why I’m so glad that this book is out of my brain and out of my hands.
Learn more about the book and author at Maureen Ogle's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

--Marshal Zeringue