Hardscratch Press

Jackie Pels,
658 Francisco Ct.
Walnut Creek, CA

email: jrbpels@


you've asked:

Hardscratch Press is named for an early-1900s family codfishing station on Unga Island in the Shumagins, easternmost group in the Aleutian Islands. The first author we published was Ralph Soberg, who wrote about his life on the island, about his roots in Norway, about his brief career as a bootlegger and his lifelong passion, building bridges and roads for the Alaska Road Commission ...  and who was the publisher's dear stepfather. "We" refers to editor-publisher-sometimes writer Jackie Pels and designer David R. Johnson, whose work has won awards and applause since Ralph Soberg's first book in 1990.

... Hardscratch Press of Walnut Creek, a small publishing house known for its fine-crafted books ... - The Independent (Livermore, Calif.)
Alaska. Ireland. Oregon.

A Thousand Cabbages and other poems
By Mary Mullen

We're honored to have been entrusted with Mary Mullen's second collection of poems, spanning two oceans and decades of courage and introspection. Books are available now from Hardscratch Press or direct from the poet (write jrbpels@hardscratchpress.com or phone 925-935-3422 for contact information). ISBN: 978-1-7365939-2-9, 6x9 inches, 76 pages, $16. Bookstore and library discounts apply.

Mary's much-praised first collection, Zephyr, was published by Salmon Poetry, County Clare, Ireland (www.salmonpoetry.com).

Water Smoke: Trolling for salmon & stories on the Norma

WATER SMOKE author C. Bruce Schwartz introduces "an extraordinary man," Oran Jewett, 94, of Ketchikan, Alaska, and continues:

"After his hip replacement we became good friends, and in 1999 and 2000 we made several commercial fishing trips together, traveling some of his familiar routes and sharing similar experiences, mine for the first time and his for the last." The chapters invite us along, fishing lore and legend (and labor) interspersed with sometimes poignant, sometimes startling reminiscences. Homemade music is heard, and a very large Goose flies in for a visit. Original pen&ink illustrations by John C. Schwartz punctuate the narrative, and several hand-drawn maps help us navigate:

"Our destination was Cape Muzon on the lower end of Dall Island, 50 miles or so away, and our route would be to cross Clarence Strait, skirt the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island and then on to Dall Island. We were expecting a rough ride. At six knots it would take us 10 hours. And if we missed Muzon the next land mass would be the Hawaiian Islands ..."

WATER SMOKE is 176 pages, 6x9 inches, with a concluding section of photos and extensive References. Cover and interior maps by David R. Johnson. ISBN: 978-1-7365939-1-2. $22. Books are available from the distributor, Charlotte Glover, at Parnassus Books, 105 Stedman St., Ketchikan, AK 99901 (parnassus@gmail.com), and from Hardscratch Press, details upper left on this page. Bookstore and library discounts apply.

30th Anniversary ... and Anne Marshall Homan's 4th book!

Chapter titles hint at a spirited girlhood: "Blossoms & Bicycles." "Admiral Anne & Miss Mary Mack." "Nawakwa & Jolly Acres," where we encounter Slinky, Anne's 4-foot pilot black snake, which when not entertaining her young charges at one or another summer camp does indeed live under the family piano. In "Generations" we meet her parents, and theirs, and theirs, not as mere names and dates but as personalities. In "The Neighborhood" and affectionate vignettes throughout, we meet Baltimore. (Not wanting to give too much away, it can be noted that the final chapter, "A Broken Ring," closes on a happy note.)

Anne Marshall of Baltimore is 6x9 inches, 134 pages, with many photos. ISBN: 978-1-7330729-1-5. $17. (See Anne's award-winning histories of Livermore, California, below.)

KIYONUK: An Arctic Alaska boyhood
by Sandy Mazen

"It was more than a day's journey by dogsled from Wales to Teller. ... How far in advance of my birth Mom traveled to Teller is unknown, but at 12:30 p.m. on March 16, I was born at Teller Mission hospital. A nurse named Anna M. Huseth signed the birth certificate. The name I was given at birth was Sylvester David Kiyonuk Mazen. Sylvester David Mazen honors my parents and all that being their son would come to mean. Kiyonuk, spelled Qayuanaq in today's modern writing system, means 'like sand' in the Inupiaq language of the Bering Strait area. I've been told it was given to me because my hair was the color of sand. It honors my birth state and what it means to me to be Alaskan born and raised. ... " From Chapter 2, "Cape Prince of Wales"

The back cover notes that after decades away (military duty in the Aleutians, a fulfilling career as teacher and counselor), Sandy Mazen returned to mainland Alaska. The final chapter, which includes a story from the Homer News headlined "Laughter follows 'I do' after years of saying 'never again,' " is a warm and affectionate conclusion.

KIYONUK is 332 pages, 6x9 inches, with many photos, extensive References, and a full index. ISBN: 978-0-9838628-9-5, $20.

The 50-Year Summer
by David Leuthe

"Alaska became a state in 1959, and I became 21," the book begins, and soon three "university chaps" (see the Table of Contents) are camping their way up the Alaska Highway, hoping for summer work to see them through another year of college in Wisconsin. Author David Leuthe didn't know that his job at a shipyard in Juneau would lead to a lifelong love affair with the new state, but acceptance at law school and a stint at a Seattle bank weren't tempting for long.

On the second summer's trip to Alaska, after a discouraging search for any sort of job around Anchorage, he and his younger brother, Craig, happened upon two fishermen working on their nets at a cannery in Kenai. "We watched for a long time," he writes, "marveling at how fast those guys were able to knot the web to the lines. To us it appeared an impossible task and also something from the distant past, maybe a scene from Ten Years Before the Mast. ... I probably decided then and there to become a fisherman, but I was too practical to admit it, even to myself. It took me years to work up the courage to say, 'I have to do this.'" Till then it was cannery life, rough and demanding, that drew him. He has written with impressive recall about his seasons on Cook Inlet plus Bristol Bay and Astoria, Oregon, always centered on fishing. The people, the process, the highs and lows.

The 50-Year Summer is 384 pages, 6x9 inches, with original photos and a full index. ISBN: 978-0-9838628-8-8. $22. For further information contact Hardscratch Press (details at left) or Lynne Leuthe via email, wakerobin37@cloud.com.

Framed by Sea & Sky: Community art in Seward, mural capital of Alaska

"... is an invitation to stroll the town where Alaska's flag was born and discover murals, and more: Homage to the Iditarod Trail and the annual run up Mount Marathon. Friendship across water. Founders and fishermen, the glacier and the fjords. Dumpsters with a conscience. A mysterious ancient sphere.
... And along the way, encounter a community."

"A visual treat," said the Seward Journal, "full of pride for the people and the place. ... You have to love the flag on the roof of the Seward Public Works building, the Alice Pickett Memorial Animal Shelter, the stories of the murals and Seward's sister city. ..." ISBN: 978-0-9838628-7-1, 188 pages, full-color throughout, $24. Notes and references. 8.75x6.375 inches. Back cover: Detail from "Tribute to Commercial Fishing," 2003; master muralist Tom Missel.

(Out of print at present, with the possibility of an updated edition. Seward's artists have remained busy.)

Too Close to Home?
Living with "drill, baby" on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

McKibben Autumn Jackinsky's Russian-Alutiiq great-great-great-grandparents were among the founders of Ninilchik village on the Cook Inlet side of the Kenai Peninsula. As a longtime Alaska journalist she has reported on the oil and gas industry from several perspectives. Now, with what author-activist Adam Briggle calls "an all too rare open-mindedness," she has interviewed families affected pro or con by the industry's presence in the area, as well as civic leaders, alternative energy advocates and others. In four unsparing chapters woven through Too Close to Home? she also tells her own family and personal story, on the way to a decision about oil and gas exploration on her inherited three-acre share of Jackinsky land.

ISBN: 978-0-9838628-6-4, 400 pages, $24.50, 6x9. Extensive bibliography and full index. As with all Hardscratch Press books, standard bookstore discounts apply, as well as a courtesy discount for libraries.

Celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2015:

"As native son Manuel Gonzales shows in this excellent and evenhanded history," Gerald Haslam writes in the Foreword to Mendota: Life and Times of an Emerging Latino Community, 1891-2012

"the Great Valley remains one of California's economic engines and one of its tragedies." Historian Lea Ybarra, author of Vietnam Veteranos: Chicanos Recall the War and other works, notes "the extensive interviews of Latinos in the book. ... Kudos to Dr. Gonzales for giving them a voice, and weaving their stories into the fabric of America." Jim Story, another native son now a member of the Columbia University history faculty, says, "Mendota not only plumbs the depths of many individual lives, those who flourished and those who didn't, but sets them in the context of the surrounding agricultural community. ... I am grateful to Professor Gonzales for his meticulous research, cogent analysis and storytelling skills."

ISBN: 978-09838628-5-7, 7x10, 360 pp., dozens of period photos, full index, $24.

(Mendota is back in print! Contact the publisher at jrbpels@hardscratchpress.com.)

There's a Freedom Here: My 100 years in Alaska,

by the late Patricia Ray Williams, whose memoir is also a lively history of the town of Seward, on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.

Her mother first visited Resurrection Bay in 1901, two years before the town was founded; her father established his law practice there in 1906, and their daughter was brought home to Seward as an infant, in 1910. Her stories, accompanied by dozens of photos and illustrations from early newspapers, are by turns poignant and earthy, always well told.

It's a great honor for Hardscratch Press to have been chosen to shepherd this book. A second printing has been arranged by the author's daughter, Pat Erickson, who can be reached at meridian@chugach.net.

References, full index, 6.5x9.25 inches, 360 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9838628-4-0. $20.

In its third printing:

Sideways Rain: 20 years of medicine, music, and good-luck landings in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands of Alaska.

Besides her work as a dedicated and resourceful medical practitioner, Nancy Elliott Sydnam, M.D., is a pilot and a poet, a hunter and gatherer, and an empathetic observer of human nature. In journal entries, letters and poems she writes with deep affection about the landscape, both bleak and beautiful, and the people she encountered on her hazardous routes, often with her cello or her Labrador retriever, first Tigger, then Vita, along for the ride. Included are photos and other illustrations as well as a map of the islands and an index of names. ISBN: 978-0-9838628-2-6.

Direct queries to the publisher at  jrbpels@hardscratchpress.com. When available, books will be sent with an invoice for the cover price of $20 per book plus postage. Standard bookstore discounts apply, as well as a courtesy discount for libraries.

(Another feather in designer David Johnson's cap: Sideways Rain's award at the 43rd annual book show of Publishing Professionals Network [formerly Bookbuilders West].)

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We marked our 20th anniversary in 2010 with two new books plus three awards from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) and one from Bookbuilders West:

  • "Best Cultural History," for The Life Story of Henry Ramsey Jr
  • "Best Regional History," for Family After All: Alaska's Jesse Lee Home;
  • "Best Memoir," for Autumn Loneliness: The Letters of Kiyoshi and Kiyoko Tokutomi
  • (all from BAIPA); plus

  • "Recognition of Merit," for Vasco's Livermore 1910 (Bookbuilders West). Book details below.
  • And as if that weren't heady enough, 2011 brought two new honors:

  • BAIPA's "Best Local History" for Vasco's Livermore 1910
  • "Best Migration Memoir" for Homesteaders in the Headlights.

  • Homesteaders in the Headlights: One family's journey from a Depression-era New Jersey farm to a new life in Wasilla, Alaska,

    by George Harbeson Jr.

    (ISBN: 978-0-9789979-8-4, 6x9, 312 pages, many photos, index of names, 2nd printing, $18).

    "Best Migration Memoir," 2011 BAIPA award.

    "George Harbeson's life, cut short at age 64, is the perfect illustration of how one person can make a difference in the life of a community. Congratulations to George Jr. for writing this meaningful tribute to both his parents." - From the Introduction by noted Alaskan Katie Hurley.

    Vasco's Livermore, 1910: Portraits from the Hub Saloon,

    by Anne Marshall Homan and Richard W. Finn, is a collection of 100-year-old portraits by Australian caricaturist Vasco Loureiro, with stories about each of the early Livermore residents pictured (ISBN: 978-9789979-7-7, $24). "Spotlights on community members ranging from an oil man to the ice man," says Linda L. Ivey, asst. professor of history at Cal State East Bay. And Sam Viviano, art director of MAD Magazine, writes, "Loureiro manages to make each figure individual and unique, which is no small feat." Winner of Bookbuilders West 2010 "Recognition of Merit" award; named BAIPA's 2011 "Best Local History."

    About Anne Marshall Homan's earlier books: Historic Livermore, California: A-Z, already in second printing, is a generously illustrated and impressively researched encyclopedia of facts, photos and artifacts. "What a pioneering and useful work of scholarship she has produced!" says Kevin Starr, professor of history at the University of Southern California. In 2008, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association chose Historic Livermore A-Z as "Overall Best Book(a tie) plus "Best Interior" − well-deserved honors for the author and for designer David Johnson.

    The Morning Side of Mount Diablo: An illustrated history of the San Francisco Bay Area's Morgan Territory Road is also in second printing. Morning Side is $28.50, 256 pages, ISBN: 0-9678989-2-7; Historic Livermore is $34.95, 584 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9789979-8-9; both are 8x9 inches, with full indexes. Queries on all of the inimitable Anne's books, including the Baltimore memoir marking our 30th anniversary at the top of this "page," may be directed to the publisher at jrbpels@hardscratchpress.com.


    The Life Story of Henry Ramsey Jr.,

    of Rocky Mount, N.C., and Berkeley, Calif., is 6x9 inches, 600 pages, soft-cover, with many photos and a full index; $25. ISBN: 978-0-9789979-3-9.

    BAIPA's 2010 "Best Cultural History."

    Henry Ramsey's "frank and eloquent account of the journey from Jim Crow childhood to a life of activism, public service, and high achievement will be familiar to some, a revelation to others. The challenge he issues is for all: Never forget our past. Never stop working for our future. Always cherish our children."

    - Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO, NAACP.

    Autumn Loneliness: The Letters of Kiyoshi & Kiyoko Tokutomi, July-December 1967,

    translated by Tei Matsushita Scott and Patricia J. Machmiller, is 368 pages, 6x9 inches, soft-cover, with many photos, two glossaries, and an index of names; $27.50. ISBN: 978-0-9789979-4-6.

    BAIPA's 2010 "Best Memoir."

    "A story of healings, border crossings, cultural cross-breeding ... in the form of letters that are an intimate and moving portrait of a marriage, as absorbing and delicate as a Japanese novel or a film by Ozu." Robert Hass, U.S. poet laureate, 1995-1997.

    Family After All: Alaska's Jesse Lee Home has been honored with the Alaska Historical Society's "Contributions to Alaska History" award in addition to BAIPA's 2010 "Best Regional History" recognition. Volume II of Family After All was also nominated for the Alaska Library Association's "Alaskana Award." Click on images or see CATALOG for ISBNs and other details.

    The Qutekcak Native Tribe of Seward calls Family After All "a testament to the survival and persistence of today's Alaska Native elders. [It] has brought history to life for our children."

    NOTE: The Puyallup Tribe of Washington state hopes to hear from people, including Alaskans, with experiences in boarding schools and other vital history for tribal archives. Details at
    www.puyalluptribalnews.net/article/732, or call Amber Santiago at 253/573-7965.

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    This is not to forget two remarkable nonagenarians (see CATALOG for cover images, ISBNs, and other details of our earlier books):

    Any Tonnage, Any Ocean: Conversations with a resolute Alaskan : Walter Jackinsky Jr. of Ninilchik, Alaska, signed on at age 47 as an ordinary seaman for the 1963 launch of the M/V Malaspina, first of Alaska's famed marine highway ferries. Thirty-four years later he retired as senior captain and honorary commodore of the entire fleet.

    Any Tonnage, Any Ocean, named "Best Memoir" in 2008 by the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, melds Alaska Native history and family drama, zest for travel and deep roots in the home place. (Any Tonnage is out of print for now.)

    In Fin, Fur & Fiber: The life and [fishing] times of a New England textile man, antiques and art dealer Nelson F. Getchell tells his part of "a broad stretch of history" with extraordinary recall and dry, sometimes mordant New England wit, offset by the loving homage paid his parents and grandparents. "My father saw the last days of sailing ships; I am experiencing the last days of the American textile industry,"  he notes with regret.

    "Each of the memoirs published since Hardscratch's founding in 1990 is handsome and meticulous in detail, illustrated with carefully chosen photographs and hand-drawn maps. ... They ask to be picked up and leafed through."Contra Costa Times

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