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Showing posts from 2015

Heaven Must Have Sent You

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When musician and song writer Chuck Pyle passed away on November 6th, he'd been fly fishing on a lake close to home, casting out across the water, no doubt watching his line arc and loop as he reached for the shadowed depths. When Chuck didn't come home at dusk, his sweetheart Terri followed her own heart line, that mysterious filament that links two souls as surely as a nylon line links rainbow trout to faithful angler. Near dark, she headed out to the lake to find him…

But that story is Terri’s to tell, not mine, and when she’s ready, I know her own poetry will lead her back to the peace and joy that Chuck’s music brought to the world. The story that is mine to tell is of the friendship that evolved between Chuck and Terri and John and me over the last ten years, and of the song that he sang at my daughter’s wedding. 
As my daughter walked arm in arm with her father toward the young cowboy to whom she had already given her heart and was about to commit her future, Chuck'…

If I were to write a novel....

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Last night Farside was lifted from the world of the seen, into the world of the unseen. I did not awaken yesterday sensing that the day would be filled with heartrending decisions. I did not envision holding Farside’s proud Arab head in my arms, stroking his neck, running my hands along the length of his still body. Nor did I know when I awoke yesterday that my corral friends, Farside’s human herd, would gather around us during a twelve-hour vigil, or that Dominica, the big white warmblood who has been Farside’s closest companion for seven years, would come to touch noses and bid him adieu. In the end, five women were with Farside and me—offering strength, solace, prayer. “You were his life blessing, Page,” Sheri said. “Send him to the love and light.”  

Before Farside came to live here with me in these green mountain pastures, he and Sheri traveled over 4000 competitive trail miles together—in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico.  In the last few years, Farside and Tripp, Sheri’s en…

Squirrels of Inspiration

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It’s morning and the October sky is subdued, the early sun obscured by a veil of haze. The house is quiet. I’m alone. The rascally pine squirrel that John trapped last week and set free near a pond three miles away is back – burying pine cones in my flower boxes, carrying pilfered insulation from the crawl space beneath the house to his nest in a nearby ponderosa. Tufts of insulation peak out from uninhabited bird boxes. He’s creative in his choice of winter larders. At dusk, he’ll retreat to curl up in his drey, nose tucked to tail. At dawn, he’ll be back at it again.

Some of the graduate students at the university taking my “Writing Life” class this fall quarter have been discussing what time of the day they’re most creative—dusk or dawn, or late into the midnight hours. For me, like for the squirrel, creativity comes early, like dewdrops on the leaves of a bleeding-heart. Morning hours are hopeful hours, when no idea seems too insignificant, no inspiration too frivolous, no seed o…

Red Lightning and the Human Heart

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“Aim for the absolute version,” editor Tom Jenks advised us during a week-long intensive writing workshop in Denver several years ago.  “Write the story so that anyone can understand it.”  I struggled to understand this advice.  What about the complexities of plot and character?  What about hidden meaning and layered nuances?  Didn’t I want my story to appeal to the sophisticated reader, the reader who sought out intelligent stories?  Surely I didn’t want to write uncomplicated stories that anyone could understand.

And yet, that is exactly what Laura Pritchett did with her novel Red Lightning. I’m not talking simple here; I’m talking uncluttered.  Anyone who has ever known or lost a mother, loved a sister or a brother, given up a child, or regained a piece of lost, fractured heart—anyone who’s own small humanity has shriveled because of large failures—who has ever sought forgiveness—will appreciate Red Lightning for the clarity with which it portrays that universal human experience.

Timothy Egan Comes to Fishtrap

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"I get afraid sometimes when I've signed a book contract," Seattle author Timothy Egan told the Fishtrap crowd Friday night, "because I start out kind of panicky when I don't know where the story arc is." Pulitzer-prizing winning author of seven award-winning books, including Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, Egancame to the Summer Fishtrap Gathering at Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to talk to writers who had been immersed in a week of workshops, panels, digital storytelling, and poetry since Monday.

A generous and thoughtful speaker, Egan shared his three-step approach to writing a book. "First, I go out and see if I can find that story arc.  For The Worst Hard Time about the Dust Bowl, I went to places like Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas - places the hardest hit by the worst environmental disaster our country has ever known - and I tried to find people who had lived through it.  I found dozens, but …

The Last Unicorn - Searching for the Saola with William deBuys

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In 2011, writer William deBuys joined conservation biologist William Robichaud on a trek into the jungled river country of Laos in search of the elusive and endangered saola, one of the earth’s rarest creatures. The small country of Laos, surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, holds within its fragile borders a richly diverse, rapidly disappearing ecosystem.  Smugglers from Vietnam, their own country now devoid of its once plentiful flora and fauna, haul out everything from Siamese rosewood to elephant trunk snakes and scaly “pangolin” anteaters.  Most of the contraband is en route to China.

The Vietnam I knew in the late 1960s—when many of my male friends were either drafted into the Army, or recruited by the Air Force or Naval Academy after graduation—was a country divided north from south. I knew Vietnam only by what I saw on the news, or by what our liberal, armband-wearing civics teacher whispered about “the political truth” of this unholy war.

What little I now …

Auker's THE STORY IS THE THING and Brooks' PAINTED HORSES

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According to the inside flap of Malcolm Brooks’ debut novel Painted Horses, in the mid-1950s America was flush with prosperity and the West was still very much wild.  Like Painted Horses, I was born in the 1950s, a child of both prosperity and wildness.  I learned how to toddle my way down mountain trails used by deer and elk about the same time I learned which fork to use for shrimp cocktail.  I learned how to trust our paint horse Bingo as he high-stepped over rocks and around fallen branches.  Then we moved and I learned what it meant to say goodbye.  Life, I discovered, was not going to be a linear journey.

Nor is the journey you will take while reading Painted Horses(Grove Atlantic, NY, 2014).  The opening drops you smack dab in the middle of backstory that unfolds in real time—the smell of the ancient muck of an archaeological dig in London rises up from the page even as the female protagonist sinks her toes into the mire. In a deft literary turn to the West, we find her sudde…

Keeping Your World Safe within the Pages of a Book: Learning from Kazuo Ishiguro

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I recently attended a very public evening, and less public morning, with renowned British author Kazuo Ishiguro.  He read from and discussed his new novel The Buried Giant, his fourth since writing Remains of the Day (awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989).

Here was my chance to sit at the foot of a master storyteller, to learn about his creative process, and about the emotional impulses and insecurities that haunt even one of the world’s most prominent writers.  Thank you, Lighthouse Writers, for organizing this event. 

Ishiguro was born in Japan, but moved with his parents to Great Britain when he was only five.  He talked a great deal about memory, and how it defines individuals and cultures.

“I became an adult with the memory of a very precious place, Japan, in my mind—a Japan that didn’t really exist.  I wanted to preserve this remembered place and I thought:  If I write a novel, I can recreate this world, and then this world will be safe within the pages of that novel…

The Extraordinary Worlds of Alice Hoffman and Nick Arvin

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A few days ago, as I was turning the final page on Alice Hoffman’s novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Nick Arvin posted (rather humbly) to his Facebook page that his short story “The Crying Man” had just been awarded this year's Alice Hoffman Prize by Ploughshares.

Alice Hoffman, as final judge for the Ploughshares award, was obviously impressed with Arvin's writing.  She singled his story out from an elite field, as did the final judges (myself, and two others) who selected his novel Articles of War to receive the Colorado Book Award for Best Novel in 2007. How interesting if we could somehow weave a web made of all the synchronistic strands that link judges to winners.  More than luck connects us - some mysterious "call and response" seems to be at work, an invisible silky strand linking this particular story to that particular heart and mind.
Arvin’s work first impressed me when I read Articles of War, his spare and powerfully moving novel about an eighteen-ye…

Oxford Junior Silences Wind in the Willows, Strikes Fear in Piglet

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Audible cries rattled the WILLOWS along the river where OTTER lived when good-natured Mole brought news that the head honchos at Oxford  had struck his name from their Junior Dictionary.  Toad, who enjoyed all the latest fads, wasn't upset until he realized that there would be no more stilted HERONS pounding down the river (a lovely phrase he discovered reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men). 

"Yea gads!" exclaimed Badger. "Will I be the next to go?" Even the WEASELS, who had taken over Toad Hall, were aghast.  "Hair today, gone tomorrow!" 

In Winnie the Pooh's forest, just a short dusty walk down the bookshelf, another ruckus broke out when Christopher Robin brought the news to his woodland gang.  "Dear dear little PIGLET," he said, "I'm afraid you have become defunct."  Piglet's smile turned upside down.  "What's defunct?" Pooh asked.  Christopher Robin shook his head. "It means kaput. Gone. …