The University of Iowa

5Q Interview: Erika Billerbeck, UI Press Author

September 30, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Writing University has continued with our series of interviews - the "5Q Interviews" - with writers that participate in the various University of Iowa writing programs and communities. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. The University of Iowa Press, with the Writing University, is reaching out to its authors to gain perspective and connection through these interviews. We want to know how they are doing, first and foremost: we are primarily checking in. We are a family here -- the press, the authors, the university -- and this is what families do: we check in.

Today we are speaking with Erika Billerbeck, author of Wildland Sentinel: Field Notes from an Iowa Conservation Officer.


Erika Billerbeck

Erika Billerbeck is a conservation officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. She is the previous author of the “Warden’s Diary” column in Iowa Outdoors Magazine. She lives in Solon, Iowa.


1. Could you tell us a bit about your new book?

Wildland Sentinel: Field Notes from an Iowa Conservation Officer is a memoir and story collection taken from my career as a conservation officer. Many people don’t have any idea what the job of a conservation officer or game warden entails so I think the book is both entertaining and informative. I tried to thread together real work stories (both funny and not so funny) along with some Iowa natural history and personal narrative tidbits. Conservation law enforcement is a very male-dominated field, so I also aimed to shed some light on what it means to feel a bit out of place and how to use those differences to your advantage. I really want the reader to feel like they are along for the ride as I go to work each day.


2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I’m still working full time as a conservation officer, so much of my daily writing is in the form of investigative reports. While it’s not as fun as writing for something outside of work, it does help lay a foundation for stories I may return to later. I’m not very disciplined when it comes to setting a strict schedule. Much of my “writing” takes place while walking my dogs. There is something about the rhythm of walking that helps my brain function and it allows me to form story outlines out in my mind. When I was working on my book, and as I prepare for a future book, I tend to just look for little pockets of time for getting initial ideas down on paper, like after my kids go to bed, and I return to them later for editing and refinement.


3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

I’m currently reading, The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman I’m definitely reading for pleasure.


4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I grew up in small-town Iowa. I went on to Luther College in Decorah which was a wonderful place for someone who loves the outdoors. The driftless region is gorgeous. Now, I live on 11 acres in Johnson County between Iowa City and Solon. The absolute best thing about my “home” is that it resides on the banks of Turkey Creek. I've been lucky enough to watch my kids grow up exploring the woods, watching the birds, and digging their feet into the muddy creek bed. If I ever need a break from the world, it always helps to head down and watch the water flow by on its way to the reservoir.


5) Do you have a writing prompts you could share to inspire us?

I’m not really one for writing prompts- especially fiction-based prompts. I believe the best writing comes from people who can write very truthfully and who are brave enough to look honestly at themselves- flaws and all. Sometimes the best stories come from real experiences that might seem mundane to the writer, but end up being fascinating to the reader.

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Thanks Erika!