Playing with Story Structure

Nancy McCabe, author of Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Memoir, coming out in September, gives the 30-year backstory on the creative process of writing of her newest book in the Spalding University School of Writing blog. Below is an excerpt and link to the full blog.

Fig_10 leaving the wedding

My forthcoming book, Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Memoir, took me thirty years to write. I’m not kidding. It’s not like I was working on it every day for thirty years; I put it aside for long periods. But it didn’t fully take off for me until I embraced approaches I had long resisted, playing with extended metaphors and borrowed forms as shaping devices.

The writing process really started way back when, at the age of nineteen and engaged, I wrote a short story about a young woman’s marital ambivalence. My own fiancé was a sweet persistent guy who’d pressured me to date him, then got it in his head that he wanted to marry me, and though I had none of the requisite romantic feelings, I agreed. Marriage seemed like a chance to reinvent my life, to find safety in a dangerous world, to find certainty in an uncertain one.

It turns out that you can leave a marriage you’ve entered into foolishly at a young age, but the questions that take hold of you as a result of it may never let go. I was twenty-five when my husband and I split up. By then I was writing in earnest about that part of my life, both trying to make sense of it and resisting the notion that such a formative experience should be written off as a shameful mistake, best forgotten. I finished my MFA and started writing a novel about a youthful marriage.

Fig_15 styrophoam noses

My early writing mentors had been traditionalists who raised their eyebrows at experimental work, pounding into me the importance of keeping the story, not tricks or gimmicks or cleverness or pretty language, at the forefront—and no more than three metaphors to a page, roared one professor. Most of that grounding has been valuable to me throughout my writing career. It ignited my own passion for storytelling and taught me about the power of the narrative arc. But it also made me wary about the fine line between structural experimentation and sloppiness for the sake of novelty. And as a reader, I’m still often drawn to straightforward, chronological structures, appreciating their ability to emotionally engage me and take me along on their journey.

The marriage novel I wrote never quite gelled. And eventually, lessons about the power of storytelling to move and engage readers led me to creative nonfiction; I discovered that the most straightforward and powerful way to tell some stories was to acknowledge that they’d really happened. Some stories didn’t need embellishment. By then, the marriage material was feeling like someone else’s life. I felt increasingly detached from it. But I thought that parts of it were funny, and parts had some wisdom, and I liked some of the sentences, and I thought some of the decisions I’d made were worth examining, and so, after I had shifted to writing creative nonfiction, the novel evolved into a memoir.

Continue reading about Nancy McCabe’s writing development and process at The Spalding School of Creative and Professional Writing blog.

Black History Month Celebration

It’s Black History Month! To celebrate, we’re offering specials on a selection of African American studies titles. Take a look below! Use code BHM20 through February and March.

Endersby & Horner - Lloyd Gaines

James W. Endersby, William T. Horner

Hardcover • $36.95 • $25.00





Kremer - George Washington Carvr 2E

In His Own Words, Second Edition
Gary R. Kremer

Hardcover • $29.95 • $20.00





Christopher Robert Reed

Paperback • $45.00 • $30.00




05 Hakutani - East West Literary Imagination

Cultural Exchanges from Yeats to Morrison
Yoshinobu Hakutani

Paperback • $24.95 • $15.00





Steinbeck, Wright, Hemingway, and the Left in the Late 1930s
Milton A. Cohen

Hardcover • $50.00 • $35.00

Spring & Summer 2020 Catalog

Our Spring & Summer 2020 catalog has just arrived! It features new titles in historical fiction, environmental science, military and American history, and literary criticism. The catalog also includes our newest paperback titles and some of the best from our backlist. Have a look for yourself!

S20 Catalog cover

November and December Events

The University of Missouri Press has many book discussion, lectures, and meet-the-author events scheduled during the final months of 2019. Please join us and our wonderful UMP authors as they discuss their latest books from the Spring 2019 and Fall 2019 season.

Nov 4, 2019, 6:30 PM–7:45 PM

Dr. Gary Scharnhorst (author of The Life of Mark Twain) talks Twain

Hannibal Free Public Library
200 South 5th Street
Hannibal, Missouri 63401

Dr. Gary Scharnhorst is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. He is the author or editor of fifty books. His trilogy, The Life of Mark Twain, is the first multi-volume biography of Samuel Clemens and has already been hailed as the definitive Twain biography. Over three volumes, Scharnhorst elucidates the life of arguably the greatest American writer and reveals the alchemy of his gifted imagination.

Nov 6, 2019, 11:30 AM–1:00 PM

Disestablishment & Religious Dissent
with authors Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan J. Den Hartog
Sponsored by Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy

Saint Louis Club
7701 Forsyth Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63105

Esbeck and Den Hartog Cover

Amid today’s tensions over a proper understanding of separation of church and state, University of Missouri law professor Carl H. Esbeck and Samford University history professor Jonathan Den Hartog examine the origins of that doctrine. The federal government never had an established church, so it is to the several states where scholars must look to find accounts of what it meant to dismantle a state religion.

Drawing from a new collection of essays, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776 to 1833, Esbeck and Den Hartog detail how the American colonies broke from the British Crown and declared themselves sovereign states. In adopting new constitutions, they were forced to address – in many cases reconsider – church-state relations. The elimination of religious taxes and similar preferential treatments was a radical, and some thought risky, departure from the state churches of England and all Western Europe.

Lunch is provided! Get your tickets here.

Nov 7, 2019, 6:30 PM

Religious Liberty: Separating Church and State
with authors Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan J. Den Hartog

Kansas City Public Library, Plaza Branch
4801 Main St.
Kansas City, MO 64112

For more information, visit the Kansas City Public Library website.

Nov 8, 2019, 3:30PM–5:00 PM

Book Talk w/ Profs. Carl Esbeck and Jonathan Den Hartog at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy

410 Jesse Hall
University of Missouri-Columbia
Columbia, MO 65201

As part of a Midwestern book tour for their new edited volume, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833, Samford University Professor and Chair of History Jonathan Den Hartog and Carl Esbeck, R.B. Price Professor Emeritus/Isabelle Wade & Paul C. Lyda Professor Emertius at the MU Law School, will present their recent research in a November 8 talk at the Kinder Institute. The event will be held at 3:30pm in Jesse 410 and is free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by MU School of Law.

Additional information can be found here.

Nov 8, 2019, 7:00PM–8:30 PM

Religious Freedom in Pluralist Perspective for our Polarized Time
with authors Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan J. Den Hartog
Sponsored by kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy

Center for Missouri Studies
605 Elm Street
Columbia, MO 65201

For the second November 8 event celebrating the launch of Profs. Carl Esbeck and Jonathan Den Hartog’s new co-edited volume, Disestablishment & Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833, the Kinder Institute, University of Missouri Press, and MU Law School will be co-hosting Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance Senior Director Stanley Carlson-Thies in Columbia for an evening lecture on “Religious Freedom in Pluralist Perspective for our Polarized Time” (see abstract below). The event is free and open to the public, and will be held at 7pm at the Center for Missouri Studies. For planning purposes, RSVPs are requested, and you can use the link below to register.

More information and a link to RSVP can be found here.

Nov 16, 2019, 10:30 AM–12:00 PM

Meet the Author, Carli Conklin (author of The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era)

Boone County History & Culture Center
3801 Ponderosa St.
Columbia, MO 65201

Conklin - The Pursuit of Happiness - Cover

Carli N. Conklin is an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. In The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History, Conklin considers the pursuit of happiness across a variety of intellectual traditions and explores its usage in two key legal texts of the Founding Era, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and the Declaration of Independence. In so doing, she makes several important contributions to the fields of early American intellectual and legal history.

Additional information can be found on the Boone County History & Culture Center website.

Nov 21, 2019, 7:00 PM–9:00 PM

Gregory Fontenot discusses his book, Loss and Redemption at St. Vith

First Division Museum at Cantigny
1s151 Winfield Rd
Wheaton, IL 60189

Fontenot Cover

Loss and Redemption at St. Vith: The 7th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge closes a gap in the record of the Battle of the Bulge by recounting the exploits of the 7th Armored Division in a way that no other study has. Most accounts of the Battle of the Bulge give short-shrift to the interval during which the German forward progress stopped and the American counterattack began. This narrative centers on the 7th Armored Division for the entire length of the campaign, in so doing reconsidering the story of the whole battle through the lens of a single division and accounting for the reconstitution of the Division while in combat.

Gregory Fontenot is a retired Colonel of the U.S. Army a consultant on threat emulation for Army experimentation and a working historian. He is the lead author of On Point: The US Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom and author of The 1st Infantry Division and the US Army Transformed: Road to Victory in Desert Storm, 1970-1991 (University of Missouri Press, winner of the 2017 Army Historical Foundation award for Unit History).

For more information, visit the Cantigny Park website.

Dec 4, 2019, 6:00 PM

Gregory Fontenot discusses his book, Loss and Redemption at St. Vith

Pritzker Military Museum & Library
104 S. Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603

Tickets can be purchased through the Pritzker Military Museum & History website. (Free for members.)

Dec 10, 2019, 7:00 PM

Gregory Fontenot discusses his book, Loss and Redemption at St. Vith
The Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War II History Round Table talk

Minnesota Historical Society History Center
345 W Kellogg Blvd
St. Paul, MN 55102

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Gregory Fontenot, author of  Loss and Redemption at St. Vith: The 7th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge, and veterans of the battle will discuss the defense and disputed aspects of intelligence and final victory.

Visit the Minnesota Historical Society History Center website for additional information.

Summer Reading for Summer Travel: Aristocracy in America

Aristocracy in America: Francis Grund’s Critique of European Travel Accounts in the Early Republic

By Armin Mattes

MattesArmin Mattes is assistant research professor and assistant editor of the Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland: The Transatlantic Origins of American Democracy and Nationhood and the editor of Francis J. Grund’s Aristocracy in America: From the Sketch-Book of a German Nobleman.

Top image: Samuel Beals Thomas, with His Wife, Sarah Kellogg Thomas, and Their Two Daughters, Abigail and Pauline by Edward Dalton Marchant

By the 1830s, America as the “New World” had long held a special place in the imagination of Europeans. Initially, this fascination concentrated more on America’s natural wonders and economic potential, but increasingly shifted to social and political phenomena after the American Revolution and the establishment of a republican regime. With the French Revolutionary Wars finally over in 1815, travel to America became easier and safer, and accordingly in the 1820s and 1830s the number of travel accounts on American society proliferated. The most famous of these was Alexis de Tocqueville’s two volume (1835, 1840) Democracy in America, but there were many more such as Michel Chevalier’s (1836) Lettres sur L’Amérique du Nord, Basil Hall’s (1829) Travels in North America, in the Years 1827 and 1828, Thomas Hamilton’s (1833) Men and Manners in America, Harriet Martineau’s (1837) Society in America, and Frances Trollope’s (1832) Domestic Manners of the Americans, to mention just the most important of them.

The style and quality of these travel accounts varied considerably, but all of them in one form or another were fascinated by one aspect in particular: the lack of a nobility in America. Nowadays, this does not seem like a big deal, but it is worth remembering that in the 1830s the republican United States was the oddity and all these visitors came from countries with a titled nobility and a more or less hierarchical social and political order. However, the trend especially in Great Britain and France was towards a greater liberalization. Hence these European writers were curious to see if and how a country without a politically defined upper class could work and what democracy in practice would mean for an upper class, a topic the more pertinent to these writers, all of whom belonged to the upper classes of European nations.

Unsurprisingly, the opinions of European visitors on American society and its elite differed. For example, Hall, Hamilton, and Trollope were clearly not impressed with what they saw and published highly critical accounts of the state of American society, describing American manners and social norms as rough and almost denying that something like an American (social) aristocracy that would deserve that name existed. Others such as Martineau differentiated more and while criticizing the manners of the masses, sympathized with and praised members of the American elites. All of them, however, agreed that the United States were thoroughly democratic and that the elites were virtually powerless. For instance, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that since upper class Americans were “unable to assume a position in public life comparable to that which they occupy in private life,” they retreated from politics altogether. As a result, they formed “a society apart, with its own distinctive tastes and pleasures,” but without political power; and since they were without power, the elite also posed no danger to American democracy. Even though, as Tocqueville realized, “the rich feel a deep disgust with their country’s democratic institutions.”

Interestingly, these European writers’ observations were in contradiction with Americans’ own perception of both the existence and dangers of an “aristocracy” in America. Jacksonian Democrats routinely conjured up the specter of “aristocracy,” and the trappings of European aristocratic culture held considerable allure for many members of the American elite. Francis Grund’s Aristocracy in America, published in 1839 in an English (London) and German edition aimed to bridge this transatlantic divergence of perceptions.

Few persons were better suited to this task than Francis Grund. Born in 1805 in Bohemia, he attended university in Vienna and was thus familiar with the nature of European aristocracy. Unlike most other European travel writers, however, Grund did not just tour the United States for a couple of months but immigrated to the nation in the mid-1820s and became a U.S. citizen, an influential journalist, and an active politician, thus gaining a deeper understanding of American society. Being a strong supporter of Jackson and Van Buren’s Democratic Party in the 1830s, Grund was also much more familiar with, and sympathetic to, the Jacksonians’ preoccupation with “aristocracy” than the other mostly conservative, upper-class European writers.

In short, Grund’s Aristocracy in America provides an ideal source to explore the aspirations, power, and danger that parts of the early republican elite posed to American democracy, which generally eluded European travelers. In contrast to most other European observers of American society, Grund painted a picture of America in which the danger to the republic did not come from below but from the pseudo-aristocratic pretensions of certain subsets of the American elite. Illustrating vividly, in a sarcastic and often highly entertaining way, the elite’s incessant hunger for exclusiveness, he revealed significant counter-democratic tendencies in the Jacksonian period. By thus bringing a class conflict fueled from above to the fore, Aristocracy in America can help one to better understand the ubiquitous rhetoric of a struggle between “aristocracy” and “democracy” in the Early Republic.

Next blog post: an excerpt from Aristocracy in America

Mattes coverAristocracy in America
From the Sketch-Book of a German Nobleman
By Francis J. Grund
Edited and with an Introduction by Armin Mattes
452 pages • Hardcover • ISBN: 9780826221568 • $40.00
Part of the Studies in Constitutional Democracy series

Fall & Winter 2019 Catalog

Our Fall & Winter 2019 catalog has just arrived! It features new titles on subjects that range from journalism to the history of the Early Republic. It also includes our newest paperbacks and backlist highlights. Have a look for yourself!

F19 Catalog cover image

The Myth of Coequal Branches: The Standoff between Congress and the White House

SiemersLately, almost every evening on the nightly news, politicians, pundits, and hosts can be heard talking about the “coequal” branches of government. But what if this idea is a myth and not part of the Constitution at all? David Siemers asserts precisely this and comments on the standoff between the White House and Congress to explain his argument.

The House Oversight Committee, suspecting the presence of criminal behavior, has demanded documents from President Trump’s accounting firm.  The president has filed suit in federal court to prevent their release.  This standoff has placed two ways of constitutional thinking in stark juxtaposition.  The first is more familiar to most Americans—two coequal branches are jousting over the proper settlement of a constitutional dilemma.  This understanding is pithily captured by political scientist Sarah Binder in a recent Tweet:  “the branches typically negotiate out their disagreements; Co-equal branches can’t easily compel the other branch to accede to demands.”  Despite being more familiar, I demonstrate in The Myth of Coequal Branches that this way of thinking is actually a recent innovation, stemming from similar disagreements between Congress and the Nixon Administration, which resisted requests of Congress by citing the president’s coequal status.

The second way of thinking has just been articulated by US District Judge Amit P. Mehta in an initial ruling on the Trump case:  “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct.”  Rather than concentrating on how much power each branch has, and asserting that it is equal, this ruling focuses on the legitimate function of each branch.  In pursuing their investigation into the Trump organization, Judge Mehta has noted that Congress is operating well within its constitutionally authorized sphere.  We can call this latter approach a “separation of functions” understanding of the Constitution, to distinguish it from the idea that there are three branches with equal power.

The choice between these two modes of constitutional thinking is not esoteric.  At issue is whether the Constitution’s own outlines for governance are followed, or whether they are replaced by a constitutional myth devised by interested actors.  Politicians offer up the idea that their branch is coequal because they know that the idea will be accepted on faith.  “Coequality” allows each branch to claim partial control over every matter before government, regardless of constitutional authorization. This rhetoric also forestalls further constitutional analysis.  Disputes may end in resolution, but not ones that are satisfactorily explained to the public, who assume that each branch should have equal say.

The American founders did not believe that the branches were equal in power.  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton baldly contradicted the idea in The Federalist.  We should take care to better understand the constitutional system we are in.  Each branch has an equally legitimate role to play, but the branches are not equals in their power or in their function.

Sarah Binder’s Tweet was “published” at 5:29 AM on May 7 2019:
The Mehta quote is on p. 24 of Trump v. Committee on Oversight filed May 20, 2019:

To read David Siemers’s full argument, check out his book! It can be found on our website and retail outlets such as Amazon.

SiemersThe Myth of Coequal Branches

Restoring the Constitution’s Separation of Functions

David J. Siemers

242 pages

Published: December 2018

ISBN: 9780826221698

Studies in Constitutional Democracy

David J. Siemers is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh and the author of four books, including Presidents and Political Thought. He lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.


The Wall Street Journal review of ‘The Panic of 1819’: Easy Money, Bad Decisions

The Panic of 1819 has been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal!

A boom in lending was followed by a bust and hard times. The crisis inspired a new spirit of self-reliance and impressive economic debate.


The Second Bank of the United States was heavily criticized in the aftermath of the Panic of 1819. PHOTO: KEAN COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

James Grant

April 17, 2019 6:54 p.m. ET

Few will feel the urge to spray confetti in this year of the bicentennial of the 1819 panic. The wondrous thing, by Andrew Browning’s telling, is that the young country survived it. The title of Mr. Browning’s fine and formidable history only hints at its scope. “The Panic of 1819” is, in fact, a political, social and financial history of the U.S., before, during and after America’s first great depression.

If you have a subscription to the WSJ, you can continue reading here:

Celebrate Black History with Knowledge!

Celebrate Black History Month with one of our African American Studies series titles. All books featured here and in our catalog are 30% off through March.
Use code BHM2019 at or when calling 800-621-2736.

Recent Hardcovers


“An excellent comparative study of how Steinbeck, Wright, and Hemingway struggled through the era’s messy politics to achieve their landmark novels of 1940.”—Alex Vernon, author of Hemingway’s Second War: Bearing Witness to the Spanish Civil War

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