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.)

Two new Alaska books, from Resurrection Bay and from Cook Inlet:

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."

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.

About the front cover image: Seward-born author J.R.B. Pels writes (p. 30), "On each drive back to downtown Seward from visits out Lowell Point I was more captivated by this scenethe building itself, the setting. The argument against using it on the cover ran along the lines of 'there is no art there.' To my untutored eye it is art. ..."


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. The book includes an extensive bibliography and a full index.

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

"This engrossing account of what it means to ordinary Alaskans when the oil industry shows up on their doorsteps," says Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and author of Deep Economy and other works, "is a good reminder that the damage from fossil fuels can hit hard locally on its way to the atmosphere and the climate." (NOTE: Author McKibben Jackinsky's first name is her mother's family name; her only connection with Bill McKibben is their mutual commitment to a healthy planet.)

For information on coming events, contact the author at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com or the publisher at jrbpels@hardscratchpress.com.



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Other recent books:

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 livesthose who flourished and those who didn'tbut 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 out of print at present, with hopes for an eventual second edition.)      





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 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 routesoften 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.

To order, you may contact the author at nsydnam@gmail.com or the publisher at jrbpels@hardscratchpress.com.  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 celebrated 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, and "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 may be directed to the author at 925/443-9440 or annemarshall_2000@yahoo.com.


THE 2010 BAIPA AWARD-WINNERS ...               

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):

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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Jackie Pels will be at the Seward Senior Center from 11-1 on Friday, Oct. 21, to sign copies of Framed by Sea & Sky. 25% of all book sales will help support special programs at the center.


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McKibben Jackinsky will sign copies of Too Close to Home? at Third Place Books on Bothell Way in Lake Forest Park, WA, on Thursday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m.
The book is also available at Elliott Bay Books in downtown Seattle.


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Check back for details on an autumnal 2-author book celebration in Walnut Creek, Calif.
25% of all book sales will be divided between the Food Bank of Alaska and the Contra Costa-Solano County Food Bank.


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Note to fans of The  Farmers Market Lovers Calendar: A limited-edition 2017 version, with David Johnson's fine watercolors and sensuous recipes by Lesley Styles, will be available in time for the holidays, timing TBA.

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