She was “bashful about meeting strangers,” and read “everything I could get my hands on—books were not too plentiful in our isolated home. But I loved to study and was a good student. My major was pedagogy or teaching.” A rural school teacher for a year in McPherson County, Nebraska, she rode six miles to work on a horse. Her next two years were spent in Salem, Oregon, where she was employed in the Miller Department Store office. In 1929 she married David Harrison Yost and the couple moved to Maxwell, Nebraska.
During the 1940s, Nellie sold several feature articles to the Omaha World-Herald, and concentrated on pioneer stories that had been told to her by her parents. “I was a rancher’s wife,” she said, “so I ran my house and helped a good deal with ranch work. My writing was in addition to that, so I had to make time for it.”
She sold her first book, Pinnacle Jake, in 1951 to Caxton, followed by ten additional nonfiction books including Buffalo Bill, His Family, Friends, Fame, Fortunes and Failures. All but her first book remained in print in Bison paperbacks by the University of Nebraska Press.
When her son Tom became an adult, Nellie was able to devote more time to her writing and kept regular hours at a seven-foot desk specially built for her diminutive size. “I like to start writing as early in the morning as possible,” she said. I used to be able to write all day if I had the time. Now I find it hard to work in the afternoons, so I usually sign off at noon. I can turnout a good deal of work, typed pages, in that time. Then I do research and reading the rest of the day and in the evenings.” She considered writing exciting and challenging, rarely a chore.
“Since my work is all factual and as authentic as I can make it, I do a lot of research—reading and interviewing—which necessitates a long period of thinking about the project before I actually do much of the work. I use the library a great deal, all the personal interviewing possible, and I visit the locations and familiarize myself with them as much as I can.”
She stared at the beginning of her nonfiction projects and waded right into the subject. “The problems always revolve themselves under that treatment. When I have the material organized I may change the way I handle it, or put it together, but that’s the way I start.”
Nellie advised other writers to get started on their ideas and keep at it. Persistence is more than half the battle. “If the talent is there, the ability will develop if the writer keeps at it. Nothing will happen if he doesn’t. In today’s overcrowded market, income or reward will most likely be small, if any, for quite a while. But by frequent submissions, editors will begin to recognize a mane, and if the work shows promise, the editor will realize thar here is a consistent, persistent writer—and perhaps will give him a hand up.”
She also told fledglings to have confidence in their work and to be convincing in their approach to any subject.
Part II next week . . .