Dolly FreedMike Masnick at TechDirt links to a Wired story by Paige Wiliams. Williams is a journalist who published a lengthy article using the “Radiohead model”—placing it on her website and inviting donations—after the New York Times decided it did not want to publish the article itself.

The Wired story suggests that it may be possible to self-publish articles and earn back the expenses that went into writing them, if you properly leverage social networks to call them to enough peoples’ attention—but the thing that really interested me was the self-published article the Wired story was about.

That article is a fascinating biography of a home-schooled woman (pictured above) who wrote a book called Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money at the age of 18 under the pseudonym of Dolly Freed, then went on to become a rocket scientist and help investigate the Challenger disaster. (The book is available on Kindle for $9.32, and as a PDF e-book at for $9.11.)

The article talks about how Dolly and her father grew up to be frugal, and she wrote the book on their techniques thinking they might help people who wanted to live on little money. Later, she went to college at Drexel, participating in a NASA co-op program.

“By then I had learned not to say too much about my possum living days,” she says. “Starting a conversation with things like ‘Have you ever watched a flock of geese sleep at night?’ or ‘You know how when you go spearfishing for spawning suckers … ’ or ‘Even though I’ve had road-killed dog and it was very good, I wouldn’t kill a dog just to eat it’ just makes people stare at you,” she says. “Don’t try these openers yourself—trust me it’s a mistake.”

After graduating, she worked for NASA in materials testing, and she helped investigate the causes of the Challenger explosion in 1986. Subsequently, she left NASA to earn a master’s degree and work as a naturalist, and is today well-known in some parts of Texas by her real name as a natural and environmental educator.

The Wired article makes some interesting points about the future of social journalism, and publishing in established papers versus on the web:

On the radio the other day I inadvertently sounded a sort of bone-headed death knell for long-form magazine narrative. The truth is, the question of narrative, and the future of narrative, and the interplay between print and web as regards the future of narrative, are a lot more nuanced than the typical sound byte allows. Narrative isn’t going anywhere.

But even without that, the article about Dolly Freed is well worth reading, as she is a remarkably interesting character.

I might just have to hunt up a copy of that book.


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