October 14, 2010

I Am a Lucky Person!

What I’m Reading Today: My friend Marjorie’s manuscript. It’s a mystery with the main character a woman firefighter. I think it’s going to be exciting.

Why am I lucky? Yet again, last night I got to go to another writers’ event! My friend Rashena, who’s a writer living in NYC, is always talking about all the great events she attends. For once, I’m not quite as jealous.

Last night, I went to A Celebration of Wyoming Writers put on by the Albany County Library and the University of Wyoming MFA program. I have to say, the ACL and MFA do a fabulous job bringing people in. In fact, when Salmon Rushdie was here, in addition to giving a talk to a packed A&S Auditorium, he also graciously did a presentation at the ACL to a smaller group. Last night’s panel included mystery novelist C.J. Box, adventure writer Mark Jenkins, and memoirist Laura Bell. Wyoming’s a small state ~ “a small town with very long streets,” as Pete Simpson put it ~ and all three write about and/or live near my stomping grounds.

C.J. Box writes the Joe Pickett mystery series that are set in Wyoming, which has 11 books so far. C.J. won the Edgar last year for Blue Heaven, a standalone novel. From his website: Box is a Wyoming native and has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, a small town newspaper reporter and editor, and he co-owns an international tourism marketing firm with his wife Laurie. In 2008, Box was awarded the "BIG WYO" Award from the state tourism industry. An avid outdoorsman, Box has hunted, fished, hiked, ridden, and skied throughout Wyoming and the Mountain West. He served on the Board of Directors for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. They have three daughters. Box lives in Wyoming.

It was so great to see C.J. in person. I’ve just missed his events for years and have wanted to hear him speak all that time. He’s a solid man, in both looks and demeanor. He wears Wyoming dress clothes ~ a black cowboy hat, a western shirt and jacket, jeans, and boots. He looks you in the eye when he talks and he has a sense of humor. Last night, one of his daughters, a beautiful blonde woman, sat right in front of us. C.J. read from his new Joe Pickett novel Cold Wind, which will be out on March 22 of next year. It grabs you right out of the gate. Something like this: “On his last day on earth, Bill Antonio went for a ride across his million-acre ranch.” I’m not doing it justice, but you get the idea. What a great first line! Then he read up until Bill gets it. Very tight prose, great use of setting, the perfect balance of action and metaphor. I can’t wait to read it. In fact, I haven’t read Blue Heaven, his Edgar book, and I’ve just ordered it.

In the Q&A, he talked about being a 20-year overnight success. What a great way to put it! Something I can totally relate to. He wrote three “very bad books” before he wrote one that was good enough. Then he went to a conference and talked with an agent and an editor, and they liked the idea, and the rest, as they say, is history. He got a three-book deal. When asked if he writes anything besides novels, he said that the reading public wants a book a year, so that pretty much fills up his time, though he said someday he’d like to write a memoir.

Mark Jenkins writes these great adventure pieces. From his website: Mark Jenkins is a critically acclaimed author, internationally recognized adventurer and the monthly columnist for Outside magazine. For the past six years, Jenkins' column, The Hard Way, has explored the meaning and joy of the physical, outdoor life. From clandestine journeys across Tibet to mountaineering in Bolivia, sea kayaking around Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula to canyoneering in Australia, Jenkins covers the globe in search of adventure, history and human understanding. Jenkins' story about his secret journeys into Burma, “Ghost Road,” was selected by Pico Iyer for inclusion in The Best American Travel Writing of 2003. Jenkins is the author of three award-winning books: The Hard Way, To Timbuktu, and Off the Map.

Mark read this great piece called “A Short Walk in the Wakhan Corridor” originally published in his column “The Hard Way” in Outside Magazine. The Wakhan Corridor in far north-eastern Afghanistan that links Afghanistan with China. It runs between Tajikistan and Pakistan. Marco Polo reportedly took this route in about 1254 to meet Kublai Khan. If you’ve ever read any of Mark’s work, you know he’s got this great voice that wonderfully balances telling you about the place with the adventures he encounters. And, boy, does he go on adventures. In this piece, he was captured by Russian soldiers. Someone in the audience asked him if he was ever in fear, and he said yes, of course. That’s the only logical thing. He’s been in some pretty scary situations, such as around a 15-year-old African boy with an AK-47 but no conscience. He said he just does his best to extricate himself as quickly as possible. Someone asked if his wife Sue knew about the dangers of this journey. Sue, who was in the audience, said of course. Mark’s contacts keep her apprised of things, and this isn’t unusual at all.

Laura Bell wrote a memoir called Claiming Ground about her coming to Wyoming to herd sheep. From the Knopf website: In 1977, Laura Bell, at loose ends after graduating from college, leaves her family home in Kentucky for a wild and unexpected adventure: herding sheep in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin. Inexorably drawn to this life of solitude and physical toil, a young woman in a man’s world, she is perhaps the strangest member of this beguiling community of drunks and eccentrics. So begins her unabating search for a place to belong and for the raw materials with which to create a home and family of her own. Yet only through time and distance does she acquire the wisdom that allows her to see the love she lived through and sometimes left behind.

Laura read from Claiming Ground. We were a little late getting there (it was at 5 p.m.), so I only heard the last of it. In it, she talked about herding sheep near the Medicine Wheel, an Native American sacred site that is in the Big Horn Mountains right around where I grew up. In the Q&A, Laura talked about being afraid. She was never afraid while working in the wilds. She said that she was afraid that she wouldn’t live a life she wanted, and that was why, in 1977, she came here. She said her next project she was working on is a novel.

Alyson Hagy was there too. She is also a fabulous Wyoming writer ~ you HAVE to read her short story collection Ghosts of Wyoming, one of the best about Wyoming ever, IMHO. She asked the question of all three: Have you taken any workshops to learn your craft, or were you self-taught? All three laughed. C.J. said he got his undergrad in journalism and then went to a school in Colorado where he never finished a semester because they wanted him to write a New Yorker story, and that was not what he wanted or needed to write. He mostly learned from reading other great writers. Mark said that he got a degree in philosophy, of all things, which is really good at teaching you to think but really bad at teaching you to write. He also was self-taught. Laura said that she, too, was self-taught. Claiming Ground started out as a collection of personal essays, and an editor told her that it would make a great memoir.

All three great Wyoming writers, and I feel so fortunate to have heard them speak.

Questions of the Day: Do you have writers who are from and/or write about your stomping grounds? Do you connect with them, or is their vision different than yours?

No comments: