July 25, 2024 July 25, 2024

Former Coaldale resident author explores rural mental health in new non-fiction book

Posted on 4 March 2024 by Ryan Dahlman
New Book Launch: (Above) Ryan Uytdewilligen signing copies of “Love, Land, and Lawyers” at Analog Books in Lethbridge, Alberta during Christmas holidays 2023.

By Heather Cameron

Alberta Newspaper Group

Former Coaldale resident Ryan Uytdewilligen recently published a book titled Love, Land, and Lawyers about a farm family in the mid-1970s, a family in which the eldest son is going through a mental health crisis.

“When he announces a sudden and unexpected marriage to a woman nobody hardly knew, a chain of events puts the farm and the family’s livelihood in jeopardy,” said Uytdewilligen. “Told in the first person, this true crime non-fiction book is an attempt to understand what happened all those years ago, perhaps serve as a cautionary tale for others. It’s a gripping story full of deceit, legal woes, and conflict – so right there you have an entertaining tale. I think for many local readers, they will enjoy it and relate because it is all about a farm family. Farm families are not thought of much at all outside of small farming communities. People are just not aware of where their food comes from or have a completely different idea of how its done. There is planning, legalities, and hard work involved. This story is an extreme example of what can go wrong, but at least it will get readers thinking about the complexities of the land their food is grown on.”

The book, Uytdewilligen says, does make the case for properly understanding and preparing for inheritance and land transfers. Because without a proper will in place, Uytdewilligen says, problems like this story can occur.

In terms of where he got the story itself, Uytdewilligen says he was contacted by a local family friend who I he had known growing up, Don Chapman, who had played hockey with his dad. Chapman’s wife, Uytdewilligen says, had also been a judge for his 4-H public speaking events. “Back in 2020, I published The History of Lethbridge, a book all about the city’s colourful past,” Uytdewilligen said. “Don read it, liked it, reached out, and told me about his family’s story. I couldn’t believe it. When he asked if I would be interested in writing it, I jumped at the chance to try something new. There was a lot of communication between myself and Don. He had actually written a preliminary draft many years ago just to try and make sense of it all. I believe Don wanted it told or at least available for the public to read. So, I used that as a springboard, plus many conversations with Don, and a lot of research in terms of what was happening locally in the late-1970s and early-1980s so I could get it right.”

Uytdewilligen says that Love, Land, and Lawyers is the first book Chapman and him have done together, and this is also the first book he has collaborated with someone on. “The response has been great!” Uytdewilligen said. “Everyone who had read it has told me that it sucked them right in, the events frustrated them, and a few even read it twice and told me it got even better the second time. I am proud to say it’s a gripping read. My family has enjoyed it and been supportive as they always have, but I am the most interested in Don’s family’s response. It’s a true story and you want to do right by everyone that was involved. We changed names and settings, but it’s as authentic as can be, and I know Don is over the moon with how it turned out. Holding a finished book you were involved in making about your own life is an incredible feeling.”

By himself, Uytdewilligen says, he has written numerous non-fiction books including The History of Lethbridge and Killing John Wayne: The Making of the Conqueror, and a children’s picture book: This is Not My Story, which was released by Kids Can Press last year.

“I have a million and one writing projects on the go,” said Uytdewilligen. “Kids books. Film history books. An autobiography. Film scripts. It’s all about getting them out into the public. The easiest part is writing. The difficult part is finding a publisher and getting them onto shelves. Hopefully there will be something released in the coming year.”

Uytdewilligen says that people who are interested in acquiring a copy of Love, Land, and Lawyers can pick up copies at Analog Books in Lethbridge, or they can call Don Chapman at 1-403-634-1253 to order one. “I’m pleased with the final product,” said Uytdewilligen. “It’s something I never expected to do. I often write film history and children’s books, so this was a completely different challenge. I love history and people’s personal stories, so that is what lured me in. It was ultimately a writing exercise for me, and I think I emerged a better writer for taking this project on. I hope to inspire people to learn about new subjects or feel something through my writing. Ultimately, I want to entertain. If I can transport people to the time and place I am writing about, or raise questions about their own lives that they wish to try and answer, then I have done my job.”

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