ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

THEFT and FIRE SEASON: BK Loren and Philip Connors Taking the West by Storm


Wolves are benevolent. Wolves are demons. Little Red Riding Hood should have never trusted the big bad one, and Liam Neeson and the crew of The Grey really did eat one—I think.  Well, it could have been a Hollywood publicity stunt.  Or maybe the film’s director just wanted the actors to take Alaska’s wilderness, and wildlife, seriously. We are what we eat. We are also what we watch, and what we read.  

The wolves in BK Lorens debut novel THEFT are nothing like the wolves in The Grey.  Actually, no real wolf pack much resembles the wolves in The Grey. Hollywood is good at creating heroes and villains, just like the federal government when it began subsidizing wolf extermination on federal lands in 1915. (Read “Wolves and the Balance of Nature Smithsonian).  


Unlike the government, BK doesn’t use the novel to further an agenda, political or otherwise. THEFT tells a story without burdening the reader, though we’re left a bit haunted (in a good way).  Life is not simple in this lyrical novel - the brother and sister are so real that they bleed on the page, the wolves are neither teddy bears nor monsters, the story’s landscape is large and contoured with conflict, and the narrative voices as diverse as the West.  Yet somehow BK manages to create such a taut “through line” that the reader never gets lost even when the complex characters lose their way.  (Did I mention that the main character Willa is a professional tracker?) No irony there. But this time, instead of tracking Mexican wolves, she's tracking her brother. Read the plot line and come to the Denver Tattered Cover book signing June 18. 

I gratefully grabbed a hold of this through line during a 22-hour return trip home from Peru. If I’d been flying with a crow instead of an airplane, I would have passed directly over the historic homeland of the Mexican Grey Wolf (featured on the book’s cover).  

Historically, wolves are afraid of two things: humans, and fires (three things, I suppose, if we include Saber Tooth Tigers). These are primal fears. Humans are, after all, walking talking carnivorous predators.  And Fire is Nature’s greatest omnivore, eating everything in its path.  

As I write this, the West is burning once again. Huge parts of New Mexico and Colorado are on fire.  The High Park Fire near Ft. Collins (started by lightning) has consumed 46,600 acres, and has already claimed the life of rancher Linda Steadman (the family’s cattle survived).  June 11the Los Angeles Times picked up a story about hybrid wolves at a Colorado wolf sanctuary. June 12, Denver’s CBS news station reported that all the hybrid wolves had been moved to safety. I haven't heard anything about other animals, domestic or wild, which are no doubt fleeing the dry, brittle and burning high country of these two states.  According to the Star Tribune Nation, the Little Bear Blaze near Ruidoso, New Mexico, has burned over 58 square miles in the Sierra Blanca Range, a landscape Willa the character in Theft probably knows as well as she knows her Peterson's Animal Tracks field guide.  

Yes, the West is burning.  It's no wonder that Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association just awarded the adult nonfiction Reading the West prize to Philip Connors for his book FIRE SEASON: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011). Ten years ago, Connors was an editor with The Wall Street Journal.  He traded it all in to spend more than 100 days a year in a fire tower overlooking a remote forest in New Mexico.  "I love my office," he writes, "twenty paces from the cabin, 65 more up the steps of the tower....A new smoke often looks beautiful, a wisp of white like a feather, a single snag puffing a finger of smoke in the air."  Listen to the book trailer.


For BK Loren, writing a story is not just about watching, or telling, it's about listening. "It begins with listening to a whisper," she says (quoted from New Millennium Writings). Is there a bit of autobiography in THEFT? Of course. No good book gets written that the author's own blood, sweat and tears does not somehow permeate the pages. Maybe that's why I liked Willa the tracker so much.  Like BK, she listens. She understands that hope lies in understanding the language of the Other.

"Across the land, one wolf howls.  There is a gap of time when there is nothing. And then, another wolf answers.  They go back and forth like this, the howls like brushstrokes hollowing out the night with sound."  

Hope to see you and BK at the Tattered Cover signing in Denver, Monday, June 18th! And watch for BK's next book, ANIMAL. MINERAL. RADICAL. Forthcoming soon from Counterpoint Press.