For well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, and trying to make a living as a writer. At age 46, he finally settled with his Mexican immigrant wife in Chadron, Nebraska, where they had a son who was red-flagged as autistic. Poe published four books about his experiences as a wanderer and his observations of America. But one day in 2006, his neighbor, Steven Haataja, a math professor from the local state college disappeared. Ninety five days later, the professor was found bound to a tree, burned to death in the hills behind the campus where he had taught. No one, law enforcement included, understood the circumstances. Poe had never contemplated writing mystery or true crime, but since he knew all the players, the suspects, the sheriff, the police involved, he and his kindergarten son set out to find out what might have happened.Love and Terror onthe Howling Plains of Nowhereis not only a six-year examination of this case, but of Poe’s eccentric high plains town, its kooky residents, his rocky marriage to a beautiful Mexican woman, and his purportedly autistic son.
Last week on the Serial Spoiler Special, we asked listeners to suggest books, movies, TV shows, and podcasts that fans of Serial might enjoy. With Season 1 set to end next week, we figured it was a good time to start looking.
And we got a lot of...Forward
One of the unheralded diamonds in the rough on the documentary circuit this year is Dave Jannetta’s documentary on the denizens of Chadron, Nebraska, evocatively titled Love And Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere.
The film is an adaptation of...Forward
Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere (Sunday, Nov. 23, 1:30 p.m.)
Steven Haataja was a math professor at a college in the small town of Chadron, Neb. One day, he disappeared. His body—tied to a tree and burned—was found 95 days...Forward
It can be a dangerous thing to give authors too much screen time. Either they demonstrate why they spend most of their days and nights behind their keyboards or they too clearly fall in love with the sound of their own voices. Poe Ballantine (the...Forward
Director Dave Jannetta and author Poe Ballantine, aka Chadron’s Ed Hughes, were on hand to introduce the movie for its Halloween debut and set the crowd up for a few laughs. This laughter is essential to the film’s success, and its overall crowd...Forward
I had the great fortune to attend the premiere in Portland, Oregon, of Wild, based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed. I want to pause for a moment and say thank you to Cheryl for being a longtime supporter of Hawthorne books and its writers. Thank you...Forward
I’m not quite sure how to write this recap without sounding like it’s paid for by both the Traverse City Film Festival and the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce. I often have conversations with filmmakers who have festival horror stories:...Forward
“Poet Alison Luterman is delighted to pick up Poe Ballantine’s book. Apparently she is a big fan. Just another day at Laurel Book Store,” Luan Stauss, owner of Laurel Book Store.
Thanks for the support!
I rose at four in the morning skipping breakfast and drove the ninety-six miles to Rapid City to catch a twin prop to Denver where I skipped lunch and caught another twin prop to Toronto. They don’t like jets much in Toronto, the signs are...Forward
Poe Ballantine’s prose cuts right to the bone (the one that’s stuck in America’s throat), but manages to preserve not only the sweetest meat but the barbecue sauce, as well. Mark Twain would have admired his wit, and had Oscar Wilde read him, he would have bought an old Ford pickup and moved to Nebraska the day he got out of the slammer, hoping that some of his style rubbed off on him. A book without style is like a swan without feathers—it’s just another plucked chicken—but this new one of Ballantine’s is in its funky way majestic as it zigzags downstream.
Poe Ballantine is the most soulful, insightful, funny, and altogether luminous “under-known” writer in America. He knocks my socks off, even when I’m barefoot.
- Tom Robbins
- Villa Incognito
Ballantine’s writing is secure insecurity at its best, muscular and minimal, self-deprecating on the one hand, full of the self’s soul on the other.
- Lauren Slater
Poe Ballantine is brilliant, sensitive, unique, and universal. Reading his work is inspiring, agitating, and invigorating. He is utterly transparent on the page, a rare thing. He’s like a bird that’s almost but not quite extinct. This is his best book ever.
- Cheryl Strayed
If the delights of either Poe Ballantine or Chadron, Nebraska were a secret, that is over now. Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is an unprecedented combination of all of the following: true crime page-turner, violently funny portrait of a tiny Western town, field guide to saving a bilingual marriage and raising an autistic child, sutra on living with open mind and big heart. Many of the sentences start on earth and end somewhere in beat-poet heaven. Ballantine comes ever closer to being my favorite creative nonfiction writer and this is why.
- Marion Winik
- Above Us Only Sky, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, and NPR correspondent
What makes Love & Terror different from other “true crime” pieces is that the crime itself acts as a backdrop in order for Ballantine to push readers to question, as he is questioning, who they are, what they believe, and what they deserve to have in their lives. Love is as prominent as death here, and, in fact, sometimes the two go hand and hand…Love & Terror is a read sure to be savored.
- Natalie Sypolt
- The Los Angeles Review
The Rumpus book club this month is reading Poe Ballantine’s Love And Terror On The Howling Plains Of Nowhere, and everyone is going apeshit. I mean, stark raving mad. People love the hell out of this book. The book was blurbed by our very own Cheryl Strayed, it’s like 12 Monkeys inside the book club right now. Absolute chaos.
- Stephen Elliott
- The Rumpus
A kind of highly readable William Vollmann.
- Robbie Egan
- Readings: Book Music Film
If you’re not already an enthusiastic reader of Poe, by the end of the first chapter of his new memoir, all two pages of it, you will be…I join Cheryl Strayed, who contributes the book’s introduction, in hoping that the secret of Poe Ballantine stays secret no longer.
- Scott F. Parker
- Minneapolis Star Tribune
It’s as if Hunter Thompson, rather than Truman Capote, wrote In Cold Blood—and not as a visiting writer, but as a buddy having a beer at the end of the bar…A funny memoir and “true crime” mashup by one of the best of the country’s vagabond raconteurs, in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.
- Bruce Jacobs
- Shelf Awareness
[Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere‘s] plot… is like a real-life episode in a Roberto Bolano novel. If you see [Poe Ballantine’s] name in a byline, read it.
- Jack Waters
- UVU Review
This is a true-crime memoir that doesn’t spare details, but it is also an exploration of intimacy. It is one astounding read.
- Susan McCloskey
- Bookshop Santa Cruz
I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that Ballantine up-ends the true crime formula in a way that’s both deeply satisfying and deceptively obvious. Most of all, it’s that rarest of things: a book that lives up to its blurbs.
- Alina Simone
Ballantine writes effortlessly about himself without regard to trend or style. He doesn’t romanticize his own mistakes. His prose is earnest and honest, punctuated with humor, and suited to his purpose…The charm of Ballantine’s novel is in the telling, the prose, the observations, and in the amazing community of Chadron that Ballantine obviously treasures.
- Jacob Schraer
- The Portland Mercury
Ballantine has written a lot of smaller pieces, fiction and nonfiction, and a couple of novels that have garnered him an enthusiastic following; this exquisitely crafted and deeply moving book should appeal to a wider audience, if they are steered in its direction.
- David Pitt
Five Star Review: There is nothing quite as satisfying as reading a book by a master of his craft. And this memoir shows just how masterful Nebraska-based Poe Ballantine is. Ballantine… can be laugh-out-loud funny…and he shows a huge generosity of soul…
- Jennifer Somerville
- Good Reading Magazine
[Poe Ballantine] avoids obvious pitfalls like taking potshots at the small-town folk or writing with a snide tone. He tries to genuinely portray the people of Chadron as they are. Without this effort to achieve empathy in his characterizations the writing would have no charm. But that’s exactly what Ballantine pulls off. He paints Chadron as an interesting, beautiful, rugged place populated with truly unique characters.
- Bart Schaneman
Love and Terror of the Howling Plains of Nowhere is a breath of fresh air, a long view across the plains of human existence, a memoir well worth reading whether we live in city or country.
- Nancy Rubin Stuart
- ForeWord Reviews
Let me tell you somethin’ true, people: Poe Ballantine is the best American writer alive that you’ve definitely never heard of. His new memoir-true crime book (& totally awesomely-titled) Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere absolutely blew me out of my shorts.
- Seth Marko
- The Book Catapult
Ballantine tries to understand where each person is coming from, whether his wife with whom he had a language barrier, Haataja’s history of depression and suicide, or the old crocodile Zimmerman. He gives space to the variations and versions that compete with his point of view. He expresses doubt instead of certainty. He refrains from sensationalism. He exposes the dysfunctions of the town, but he turns the harshest light on his own flaws and failures. And in weaving Haataja’s life and death into the stories of his marriage, his son, and the townspeople, he looks deeply into the ties that bind us and the ways they can be broken.
- Teow Lim Goh
- The Philadelphia Review of Books
Tom Robbins is spot on when he proclaims, “Ballantine is the most soulful, insightful, funny and altogether luminous ‘under-known’ writer in America.” Until reading this book, this reviewer was unfamiliar with Ballantine (Things I Like About America), but quickly rectified that situation by ordering all of his books.
Humor and insight are constant companions throughout the narrative, and aspiring writers would do well to study Ballantine’s brilliant prose. Superb for readers who enjoy quirky personal narratives like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
- Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Law Lib., Morgantown
- Library Journal
Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is a memoir written so beautifully that for a while I had to put it down out of creative jealousy.
- Fiona Kills
- Reading Kills
As a father Ballantine is attentive; his love for Tom draws him respectfully into his son’s world. As a writer Ballantine’s observations are acute and precise; he knows the importance of ‘show don’t tell’. The result is a tender portrait of a relationship which I found moving and affirming in its ordinariness. Ballantine is a fine writer – one of the best - and as well as a true crime page-turner (which it certainly is) Love & Terror is a zen guide to living with autism.
- Liz Barrett
- Living with Autism
Poe Ballantine’s latest book a gripping read.
- Tim Teeman
- The Daily Beast