Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Amanda Eyre Ward: Love Stories In This Town

Amanda Eyre Ward scribbled (as she calls it) for ten years before her first book was published. And she wants you to know that no matter how hard writing is, it's worth it. Four books later, Ward is scribbling her fifth in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her geologist husband and their two children.

Love Stories In This Town is Ward's first collection of short stories. Her stories take place in Montana, Texas, and Saudi Arabia, among others, and tackle subjects like terrorism, motherhood, and "grave matters of the heart" (Publishers Weekly).

To hear Chérie Newman's interview with Amanda Eyre Ward, tune in to Montana Public Radio December 31 at 7:30 p.m., or click here to listen online.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Brian Blanchfield: A Master of Poetic Intrigue and Inventiveness

by Lisa Teberg

Brian Blanchfield, the 2008-2009 Richard Hugo Fellow in Poetry at the University of Montana, possesses the courage to invite readers into the intimate details of his life. I confess that I didn’t give Blanchfield’s poetry adequate reverence before attending his reading. I respected the revealing nature of his poetry, but I didn’t feel an emotional connection until I heard him read and explain his work.

Blanchfield’s poems contain intriguing anecdotes and vivid imagery. "Letter To A Silvery Mime in Yellow," entwines the reader in his description of a mime in the subways of New York:

The sunniness signs on you somewhat more than silver did,
but these passers through carry pantries of selves along, miss
the pouring parasol, and think advertisements about you.

Blanchfield forces the reader to engage with the mime adorned in silver and yellow.

Similarly, Blanchfield devised a poem titled, "Velma." He presents his subject as:

The sweatered, squat one, remember, with glasses,
iterator of the dog’s doings, the dopehead’s score,
swiped often, but sound and blinking by episode’s
every end.

It’s not often that cartoon characters thrive in the stanzas of poetry. Yet, Blanchfield’s imaginative imagery puts Velma into our mind’s-cartoon-eye with her orange turtleneck, brunette bob, and keen detective demeanor.

Blanchfield’s poetic inventiveness is a continual process. During his reading, he provided our eager ears with excerpts from his current writing. These poems are inspired from a book titled, The Dictionary of the History of Ideas. He opens with an epilogue including a definition from the dictionary and follows with a poem. There is no doubt that these will be published in a celebrated collection.

I encourage poetry enthusiasts and even those merely curious about poetry to attend a reading given by Brian Blanchfield. If not, at least pick up a copy of Not Even Then and treat yourself to an inspiring read.

* * * * * *

Lisa Teberg is a post-baccalaureate student studying Creative Writing at the University of Montana.

Not Even Then
Brian Blanchfield
81 pages
Paper back, $17.95
University of California Press, April 2004.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lauren Kessler discovers life in the land of Alzheimer's

Last October, Chérie Newman talked with Lauren Kessler at the Montana Festival of the Book. Their conversation focused on Kessler's fifth nonfiction narrative about her experience working as a resident assistant in an Alzheimer's facility: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's (formerly titled Dancing with Rose).

Listen to the program on Montana Public Radio Thursday, December 17, at 7:30 p.m.

Or listen online. Click here to hear the program from the Montana Public Radio website.

The program includes music by Springhill, a Bozeman-based folk-jazz quartet, Aaron Minnick, a composition student at the University of Montana, and Michael Marsolek and Lawrence Duncan, members of Drum Brothers who present performances called Musical Dreamtime Journey.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Whitefish Review with Brian Schott

If you didn't get a chance to listen to The Write Question last Thursday evening, here's a link to the Montana Public Radio Web page where audio is posted:
Brian Schott talks about the Whitefish Review.

Brian Schott is founding editor of the Whitefish Review, a literary journal based in Whitefish, Montana, that publishes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, photography, and interviews, with a slant toward mountain culture.

There will be a launch party for the new/sixth issue of the Whitefish Review on December 17 at Crush Wine Bar in Whitefish.

Tune in to Montana Public Radio every Thursday evening at 7:30 to hear The Write Question. Or get a weekly link to audio by subscribing to this blog (see bottom of page).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lowell Jaeger talks about Many Voices Press and reads a few poems

Lowell Jaeger, poet, teacher, and editor, finds extraordinary humor in ordinary events. During this week's program, he'll read poems from his latest collection, Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep, as well as some new poems. He'll also talk about creating Many Voices Press.

Listen to the program on Montana Public Radio Thursday, December 3, at 7:30 p.m. Or, click here to find out more about Lowell Jaeger and his poetry, and listen to The Write Question online.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rachel Toor Talks About Her Love Affair With Running

Rachel Toor started running because her dog and her boyfriend ran, and she felt left out. Fifteen years later, she published her journey from "egghead" to ultra-marathon runner in Personal Record: A Love Affair With Running.

Listen to Rachel Toor talk about her writing (three books and hundreds of magazine articles) and read from Personal Record on Montana Public Radio on Thursday, November 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Or click here to listen online.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chris Jones: award-winning journalist

Our guest this week is Chris Jones. Jones started out as a newspaper reporter, a sports writer. But he wanted to write about something "deeper than football."

The first time he was able to convince an editor at Esquire magazine to let him write a feature article, he won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing.

Jones is currently the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor at the University of Montana School of Journalism.

Tune in to Montana Public Radio Thursday, November 19, at 7:30 p.m. or listen online.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heather Barbieri's new novel, The Lacemakers of Glenmara

Heather Barbieri's second novel, The Lacemakers of Glenmara, is set in a small town in West Ireland "where a heartbroken American tourist, Kate Robinson, finds her one-night stay extended with the help of some motherly role models." (Publishers Weekly)

Click here to find out more about Barbieri and her books, and listen to The Write Question online.

The Write Question airs every Thursday evening at 7:30 on Montana Public Radio.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kevin Canty: Where The Money Went

This week, The Write Question expands to a 30-minute program with a completely new format. Kevin Canty is our guest for the debut program. He'll talk about his process of writing short stories and tell us how to know when a short story wants to become a novel. And he'll read from stories in his latest collection: Where The Money Went

The new program format includes a short discussion about books written by regional authors. Producer Chérie Newman and Montana Public Radio's own Literary Dude, Zed, will discuss two recently published books.

Listen Thursday, November 5 at 7:30 p.m. or click here to listen online.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mark T. Sullivan

This week on The Write Question, Mark T. Sullivan talks about his latest thriller: Triple Cross.

Triple Cross takes place at the Jefferson Club, an exclusive resort for the super-rich in the mountains of Southwest Montana. On New Year's Eve, a militant group devoted to fighting corporate greed breaks through the club's high-tech security system and threatens to start executing hostages. There's mystery, action, drama, and, of course, romance. And right smack in the middle of it all, a set of headstrong teenage triplets.

Tune in Sunday morning at (approximately) 11:10 or next Thursday at 8:30 to hear Mark T. Sullivan on The Write Question.

Or, click here to listen online.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Craig Johnson, a "cowboy from Wyoming," goes to the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

There was an important moment when the guy standing next to me at the Washington Post for the official photo for the National Book Festival in DC turned and said, “Hey Craig, how you doin’?” I thought he looked familiar as he told me about selling books out of the trunk of his car, but it was only as he was turning away that I got a look at his nametag and read John Grisham.

Another was when I saw an elderly gentleman at the adjacent table looking for a place to sit at the breakfast reception. I stood and took my chair over, placing it beside him. “There you go.” By that time I’d gotten pretty cagey about the whole nametag thing and caught a glimpse of his, Ben Bradley--the famed editor who had seen that two cub reporters by the names of Woodward and Bernstein got a crack at a little know story back in the seventies called Watergate.

I was starting to feel a little more than out of my depth.

The night before, Judy and I had attended the opening reception at the Library of Congress Reading Room. If you haven’t been there, you should go. I think it’s one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever been in and if you go during business hours and show them some ID they’ll give you a card so that you can request any of thirty-two million books.

I was tempted to request one of mine but it was, after all, beyond business hours.

The next day I got to speak in a tent that held about seven hundred people and set the pace by telling them about getting pulled over by HP Jim Thomas on the other side of the mountains. They started laughing, and I’ve got to admit that they laughed all the way through my presentation. I like to think they were laughing with me. The speech is up on the Library of Congress website, if you should choose to watch.

Later, I got to chat with Mike Enzi and assist Wyoming State Librarian Lesley Boughton by placing stickers of Steamboat (the horse on our license plate) on the maps the hoards of kids brought to our table. Lesley was tough and made them guess where the home state was, “There are only two square states…”

Now with a guest list that included the afore mentioned John Grisham, Ken Burns, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Margaret Coel, John Irving, Sue Monk Kidd, Walter Mosely, James Patterson, and Lisa Scottoline just to name a few, you might be wondering how in the heck the cowboy from Ucross got invited? I mean, I had a good year but not that good.

Well, the secret lies in a nice fellow by the name of John Y. Cole, the Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress who has a wife who is the librarian at the little museum down the road—the Smithsonian.

Well, guess which square state she’s from.

All the best,


* * * * *

Craig Johnson is the author of the Walt Longmire series. His fifth book, The Dark Horse, was published in June of 2009. Visit Craig Johnson's website.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sheryl Noethe

This week on The Write Question, Sheryl Noethe, poet and founder of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, talks about the impact of "becoming an author" on her life. She also reads from her latest collection of poetry, As Is.

Click here to listen to Sheryl Noethe on The Write Question.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Financial Lives of the Poets

"A laid-off newspaper reporter turns to dealing pot in Jess Walter's new novel."

Check out Jenny Shank's review of The Financial Lives of the Poets, at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Jamie Ford: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, talks about his novel on The Write Question.

Listen to The Write Question Sunday morning during the eleven o'clock hour or Thursday evening at 8:30 on Montana Public Radio.

Or, click here to listen online.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Discovering Samuel Ligon

Say you had 450 thousand dollars of tax-free cash and the opportunity to start a new life. What would you do next? That’s the question Robert Elgin, the central character in Samuel Ligon’s novel Safe in Heaven Dead, forgot to ask himself. He put all his efforts into absconding with a secret slush fund and escaping from his troubled marriage without considering what he’d do afterward.

With Safe in Heaven Dead, Ligon moves a fantasy of financial independence and freedom from the realm of daydream into practical reality, a reality in which cash is suspect.

Think about this: Where do you stay if you can’t use your real I.D. or your credit cards? And where do you stash all that cash? And, without any obligations or responsibilities whatsoever, what do you do with 168 hours every week?

Elgin checks into a sleazy motel and watches TV. He carries the money around with him in a plastic trash bag. He finds a high-class escort service that (of course) accepts cash. He develops a relationship with Carla, a beautiful doctoral student — a relationship that eventually kills him, during the first sentence of page one: “Robert Elgin died on the street, knocked down pursuing a woman he thought he could not live without.”

Safe in Heaven Dead is Ligon’s debut novel, published by HarperCollins in 2003. But his writing is mature and innovative. The story moves in flexible, crystal clear circles. Ligon presents dialogue in a notably fresh form. The plot is supported by complex details written simply. And the narrative ripples with moral dilemmas sans advocacy.

Publisher’s Weekly said it best: "This debut novel instantly seizes and holds the imagination. Few readers will remain unconvinced by the agonizing questions that drive this story, and the tragedy with which the book begins and ends."

Autumn House Press recently published a collection of Ligon’s short stories: Drift and Swerve. They are vivid and intense.

Find out more about Samuel Ligon at his website:

Friday, September 25, 2009

This Week on The Write Question

This week The Write Question features April Christofferson, author of seven novels. Her latest, Alpha Female, is an eco-thriller set in Yellowstone National Park.

Click on the link below to hear April Christofferson:
The Write Question on Montana Public Radio

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lee Kierig on Infinite Love

Part philosophical treatise, part spiritual teaching, part political manifesto, Where Is Infinite Love? Public Welfare Human Responsibility and Sustainability of Earth declares that it is time to examine our beliefs and our behaviors and to begin acting from LOVE, the real kind.

Where Is Infinite Love, written by Lee Kierig, an architect and writer in Hamilton, Montana, is not light reading. But it's message is important and timely. Chérie Newman asked Kierig a few questions about the book's key points. Here are his responses:

What prompted you to write "Where Is Infinite Love? Public Welfare Human Responsibility and Sustainability of Earth" ? A specific event?
Two events, really...separated by twenty-five years...caused the writing of this book. At Montana State University, in 1983, as part of the requirements for obtaining my degree in Architecture, I wrote/produced a thesis that aimed to discover "The Spirit of the Art of Architecture." With mentors and advisors such as; the Dean of the School of Art and Architecture; the Director of the School of Architecture; the Director of the School of Philosophy and a professor of Religious Studies, the experience proved to be significantly profound in my discovery of "duality," "fourness" - the balancing of opposites - and underlying universal themes motivating Humanity throughout the entire concourse of all Human history. These themes, clearly evident but not readily apparent or recognized, have arisen among us and clearly serve to motivate us against ourselves on many levels...some of them on a significant and destructive level. The discovery of universal concepts...ideas we all share, and in particular the concept of LOVE, had a profound affect upon my inner self that stays with me to this day and represents the underlying premise in the book. The realization that we ALL believe in the same LOVE, is not holistically or even commonly known among us. In fact, the word "love" conjures up a gambit of surface views, stigmas and stereotypical perceptions among us that largely divides us...even though we are all like-hearted in its presence. Its relation to forming cultural spirit - ethos - manifests itself on the surface of who we are, as our largely inherited belief systems that we express into the world. These expressions, oftentimes violently hurled into world society, encompass the overall manner of how we act and is virtually dominated by centric behavior having its basis in a world view of "Being" versus "Becoming." In other words. we largely tend to view ourselves, by each and by group, as somehow separate form the "made" world with all things and manner of things "presented" - a static engagement. Contrastingly, by virtue of the continual arising, we largely deny or disregard the fact that all things evolve and continually become, with our engagement as actually intertwined and dynamic. Things don't actually "appear" as if "made," but rather, "arise" as "manifested" from the eternal combining of possibilities and representing, then, ongoing creation. We eternally seek balance with the never-ending stream of choice-making that is largely made up of resolving opposites. Tension and resolution give rise to feelings of peace, tranquility and accomplishment - the ART of making - our essential nature and akin to the ALL LOVE.

What is the core premise of the book?
The manner of "human acting" affects all outcomes of human endeavor. I observe that the "human act" is a product of primal archetype schema cast upon us at the advent of all sentient life...from which we evolved. The advent of reflective consciousness engraved into all future comings of humans, that the world is..."ME". Moreover, the "human act" is infected with a cooked-up centric view that "God" favors "us and not them" - that "God" is wrathful, vindictive and mean...IF you don't do what [we say] he wants. Virtually no one even contemplates the meaning behind the notion of a "God" that "wants" something as opposed to a "God" that merely "presents" optimum choices...bringing with it, then, the need to contemplate a "God" that expresses "purpose-with-consequences." Where, we might ask, is the Infinite Love in that? Get the idea? The universal premise of all emblematic movements is "Love"...the core theme in my 'thesis' is, What IS Infinite Love? and, moreover, WHERE is it? These fundamental manners of the "human act" - expressed sometimes violently into the world - have never been questioned for any merit in the world value arena and only give rise to aggression, prejudice and power-hunting - [seen as "free rights"] and, quite plainly, only serve to set us against ourselves...still, after all the eons of our coming forward, is this the hallmark achievement of humankind? can't be. The time has come upon us, now, to acknowledge, recognize, reckon and re-create. Even now, poised on the precipice of collapse...there is clearly some distance way to go.

Do we have to totally re-invent ourselves?
All of us? Yes, at some level we are ALL afflicted. The core theme to achieve True Sustainability, does require a fundamental reckoning of the human act toward a higher sense of purpose to nurture, keep and steward our human family and our sweet all-giving limited Earth. ALL survivability depends on what we do now. There is no real time for debate as too many live in denial of the present and imminent findings of facts that degrade the Natural Law Domain of Public Trusts which is; to protect the life, health, safety and welfare of the public AND to protect all the limited offerings of Earth AND the fundamental right of all sentient beings to their manner of life...too many live under the hammer of oppression, mixing lard with sand for "our only meal today" and hoping the ethnic cleaners, moral dogma brigades and reckless despots don't come around today. Why are women blamed for the "fall" of mankind? Why aren't we ALL living a responsible and creative life full of artfully meaningful experience? Too many of us look for "success" in a lottery ticket and for bliss in a brown bottle. Might we arise to become better students of who we are, what we've not become and relish becoming an aspired humanity based on principals of LOVE?

It is plainly evident that how we act is responsible for all the calamity arising from centric pursuits and driving us toward catastrophe and collapse. An Earth-cost economy and Vital Planning for balance, while turning toward the essential nature of ALL of us to be creative, is how we can arise for the Noble Purpose to UNIFY for Truth, altruism, respect, reverence, responsible liberty for ALL citizens and sentient beings of Earth, ethics, philanthropy and yes, Infinite Love...these, evidently, are some things we seem to know very little about.

Lee Kierig

Click here to visit Lee Kierig's website

Kierig's Call To Action

For ALL citizens of EARTH, I come, now, asking for UNITY among us for the Noble Cause to finally reckon the fundamental manners of the human act and apply our reverent call upon the World Table. Without a vital re-creation of our way-too-old-now motivating philosophies, can we ever hope to achieve a True Sustainability of Humanity and Earth...Responsible Liberty for ALL citizens of Earth...Responsible respect for ALL sentient beings...for ALL future generations?

I have initiated a campaign for UNITY among us to make this "reverent call" upon the World Table. Some courage is to be mustered in realizing that who we are is directly responsible for the malady of our manner that yields to calamity, catastrophe and collapse, even as we see that world population is now beyond sustainable limits...that we are consuming world resources at a 20% annual deficit...that by 2080, we'll need TWO Earths to support us. So, for that, I ask you to become part of this campaign - this movement - this reverent call.
Please come forward and endorse this Call for a Vital Reckoning...this Call for Truth...this Call for Peace...this Call for Vital Planning for Balance and True Sustainability...and, yes, this Call for Re-creation through principals of Infinite Love. We ALL must stand now and ask the World to STOP.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Greg Pape, Montana's second Poet Laureate

This week The Write Question features poet and teacher Greg Pape. During his term as Montana's second Poet Laureate, Pape came up with some inspiring and innovative ways to become an advocate for poetry. Use the link below to hear all about them and listen to Pape reading two of his poems on The Write Question:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Some Men Are The Way They Are: Noticing One Theme In Three Short Story Collections

Where The Money Went, by Kevin Canty
Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy
Nine Ten Again, by Phil Condon

Here's a link to a review of three short story collections written by Chérie Newman and just published in High Country News:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Phil Condon: Nine Ten Again

Phil Condon is this week's guest on The Write Question. Condon's new book is a collection of stories: Nine Ten Again.

Click on the link below to listen to the program.
The Write Question on Montana Public Radio

Friday, August 21, 2009

Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman

Ellen Baumler is this week's guest on The Write Question. Baumler co-authored Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman with Brian Shovers, Charlene Porsild, Rich Aarstad and Ellie Arguimbau. The book was published by the Montana Historical Society.

Click on the link below to listen to the program.
The Write Question on Montana Public Radio

Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Fitzgerald: Radiant Days

This week on The Write Question, Michael Fitzgerald talks about the value of anti-heroes in literature in general, and in his novel, Radiant Days, in particular.

Click here to listen to Michael Fitzgerald on The Write Question

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Victor Charlo

Victor Charlo, poet and great-great grandson of Chief Victor Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish, talks about Indian ways, new and old, this week on The Write Question. He also reads some of the poems in his new collection, Put Seý.

Click here to listen to Victor Charlo on The Write Question

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kevin Goodan, poet and professor

If you enjoy smart, but accessible poetry, check out Kevin Goodan's new collection, Winter Tenor. And hear him read a few of his poems and talk about writing this week on The Write Question.

New collections by Western Montana Native American poets:

Put Seý, by Victor Charlo
Suddenly Out Of A Long Sleep, by Lowell Jaeger

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pulitzer Prize Nominee Craig Lesley

Craig Lesley, an award-winning author from Portland Oregon, was in Missoula last February. I enjoyed his books and our discussion so much, that I'm repeating this program -- in honor of Father's Day.

Click here to find out why and listen to The Write Question

The Write Question is supported in part by Humanities Montana, enriching intellectual, civic, and cultural life for all Montanans.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What's her name?

Ever wonder how to pronounce the name of the only woman who traveled with the Corps of Discovery? Well, now's your chance to find out. Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs, Lewis and Clark scholar, is our guest this week on The Write Question.

Her book of essays on Lewis and Clark, Why Sacagawea Deserves the Day Off and other Lessons from the Lewis and Clark Trail, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in the Fall of 2008.

Click here to find out more and listen to the program.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Montana Historian Gary Glynn

This week, Missoula historian Gary Glynn is our guest on The Write Question. He'll talk about writing the text for a new Turner Publications book of Montana photography: Historic Photos of Montana.

Click here to find out more about Glynn and the book, and listen to the program

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yellowstone Autumn: A Season of Discovery in a Wondrous Land

Although he is not a western writer, W.D. Wetherell's new book, Yellowstone Autumn: A Season of Discovery in a Wondrous Land, is well worth a western reader's time. Wetherell's view of the park is delivered with the clarity and insight often available only to those we call "outsiders."

Click here to read Chérie Newman's review of Yellowstone Autumn, written for High Country News.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Writers Win Awards

March has been a good month for several Montana and Wyoming writers.

Wendy Parciak's first novel, Requiem for Locusts, received an Honor Book designation from the Montana Book Award Committee, as did David Allan Cates for Freeman Walker.

Kalispell author Carol Buchanan just won a Spur Award for her historical novel, God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana.

Craig Johnson, from Ucross, Wyoming, also won a Spur Award for Another Man's Moccasins, the fourth book in his Walt Longmire Series.

Congratulations all!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Craig Lesley

This week The Write Question features Craig Lesley from Portland, Oregon. Lesley has published four novels, two of which were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and one memoir.

Listen to the program from the Montana Public Radio Web site.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Moritz Effect

Our guest on "The Write Question" this week is Barry Schieber from Bigfork, Montana. Click here to read about Barry Schieber and Moritz, and listen to the program.

The Special Olympics Committee of Montana selected Barry's new book, Moments of Wonder: Life with Moritz, to be gift wrapped and given to every athlete participating in this year’s Winter Special Olympics. Barry and Moritz attended the games.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Updates about Mary Clearman Blew and Rick Bass

from Chérie Newman

Mary Clearman Blew has won a Western Heritage Award for her novel, Jackalope Dreams (Nebraska Press 2008 ).

Click here to listen to Mary Clearman Blew on The Write Question.

And Rick Bass, most famous for his nonfiction environmental writing, is devoting more time these days to fiction, his first writing love. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish Bass’s third novel, The Lives of the Browns, in the fall of 2010.

Click here to listen to Rick Bass on The Write Question.

Read Jenny Shank's full update about Blew, Bass, Thomas McGuane and other regional authors at New

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Q & A with Erin Prophet

by Chérie Newman

If you lived in Montana during the '80s and '90s you've heard the name Elizabeth Claire Prophet, a.k.a "Guru Ma." And you probably associate that name with media stories about Church Universal and Triumphant: bomb shelters, illegal acquisition of automatic weapons, and a major environmental disaster -- the result of leaky underground fuel storage tanks.

At the time, you may have wondered what the heck was going on over in the Paradise Valley. I certainly did.

Well now, at last, we have an opportunity to read the inside story because Elizabeth Claire Prophet's daughter, Erin, has published a book: The Prophet's Daughter: My Life with Elizabeth Claire Prophet Inside the Church Universal and Triumphant.

The book is well-written and surprisingly nonjudgmental, which intrigued me enough to contact Erin and pepper her with questions.

Can you describe the moment you decided to write "The Prophet's Daughter"?
The book began as a much larger project, which I had envisioned as a biography of my parents and a history of their church and principal followers. I decided to write it in early 1998, before my mother's illness had been diagnosed. I always intended it to be an accessible work for the general public that would show my mother's human side while revealing what I believe is a genuine spiritual gift as a charismatic leader and promoter of alternative religious thought. I began by conducting interviews with dozens of people who had known my parents and been inspired by their work. I planned to tie it together through my own story, but in the beginning I approached it much more as a historical account than a memoir. It went through many rewrites, with much of the history being cut out, then some added back in, at the request of different editors.

What research materials did you use to reconstruct the past? Diaries or journals? Newspaper clippings?
I had learned to take very good notes while in journalism school, and I had notebooks full of observations dating from the time I had begun to work for my mother, around 1985, through 1998. There was also a lot of material in the public domain, including newspaper clippings, court transcripts and other legal documents. And I had transcripts of many of my mother's public events.

Did you censor, or leave out, certain parts of the story in order to protect people, or yourself?
I tried to respect the privacy of people who were or had been in the church. A number of people asked me not to use their real names. My rule of thumb was to include only names of people who had given me interviews, or who had already been publicly mentioned in the press or in court documents. I could have made some people look worse than they did, including myself. I may tell a fuller story in the future, but I think that I accomplished my purpose in the sense that I was able to portray both what drew us together into a community and what pulled us apart.

What was your process of writing? Did you churn out pages while working at a "day" job?
I am almost embarrassed at how much of my life I have given to this project. It took ten years. Initially, I was a home-maker raising two boys and two step-sons while helping my husband to run his construction business. At that time, I had a few hours a day to write. After my divorce in 2002, I started a technical writing business with the aim of supporting myself as a writer. That was only partially successful, and I transitioned into work as a corporate trainer and project manager while finalizing my book. There was a very intense period in which I had taken a full-time job but I was also under contract to deliver my manuscript. I would get up at five, write for an hour before leaving for work, and then work several hours a day also on the weekends, as well as any vacation time that I had.

How did you find your publisher?
As I'm sure many authors have told you, finding a publisher is no easy task. I was introduced to my agent, Jane Jordan-Browne, by Patrick and Carol Hemingway in 1998. Jane had represented a number of celebrity biographies, and that was how she treated the project initially. She had some interest from big publishers, but I was told numerous times that my work was too journalistic and that I needed to write more about my own feelings. It has always been difficult for me to write about myself, and this was the most challenging part of the project. In 2002, Jane unfortunately died after a short illness, and her agency was taken over by Danielle Egan-Miller, who encouraged me to rework the project into a memoir. I chose to focus the story around the questions people might have about the shelter episode, which is of course the most well-known part of the story. I think I could have found a publisher more easily if I had been willing to write a "how-I-got-out-of-the-cult" book but I always wanted to portray the story in its complexity. I have never believed in brainwashing and I try to show, in addition to my mother's charisma, that she was meeting genuine spiritual needs, and that the expectations of the followers also played a role in her power. In 2005, Danielle and her assistant Joanna MacKenzie got me a contract with Penguin-Tarcher, but they ended up canceling it because I hadn't been successful in trimming the length. My friend the journalist Scott McMillion was able to connect me with Allen Jones at Globe Pequot, who was very interested in the project, and helped me to polish it into its final form. It was published in the fall of 2008 by Lyons Press, which is an imprint of Globe Pequot.

Did your siblings support this book project?
My siblings were very supportive in terms of sharing their time and memories. My brother Sean also helped with photographs. I was pleased when, after reading a final draft, they told me I had finally done it. I had been successful in terms of revealing our mother as a talented and loving but flawed human being. I appreciate their support and honesty in allowing me to portray their own struggles, because none of us comes off as perfect in the book.

How have people in the communities of Livingston and Gardiner responded to this story?
The friends that I have in Livingston and Gardiner have been supportive. I think they also have been interested to learn the details about a story that touched their lives directly or indirectly.

How have CUT members reacted to the book?
I have had a mixed reaction from church members. I've gotten a lot of letters and e-mails from both current and former members, particularly people my age and younger, thanking me for having the courage and honesty to tell my story. On the other hand, some members have been pretty upset and felt betrayed. Many of them won't even read the book. It's become a badge of honor not to have read it. It was never my intent to destroy their faith, but I do believe that my story has important ramifications for the future structure of the church, particularly with regard to its teachings on evil incarnate and sexuality. The church leadership has tried to brush off the book as a "personal story" about the past that presumably does not reveal who they are today. I would hope that they would have the courage to admit the problems that come from some of the beliefs and publicly renounce some of the beliefs that led to the most important mistakes. I see my parents as pioneers who drew from many religious traditions. Our church was a laboratory for those traditions, and not all of them worked.

What has happened to CUT since your mother left as leader of the organization?
It is currently led by a group of conservative ministers. They have undone some of the restructuring that my mother supported towards the end of her working life. In what I believe was an apology for the excesses of her power, she had embraced a collaborative model that was supposed to allow the members more say in the direction of the church. However, the current structure, as I understand it, gives control to a small in-bred group, which I don't see as a positive step. They have arbitrarily dismissed many dedicated members whose only crime was to question their authority. If the church is to move successfully into the future, it needs to re-embrace the collaborative model and allow for evolutionary change, which was something my mother herself had done, in terms of updating earlier traditions when she first began her ministry.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Full-Court Quest: The Girls from Fort Shaw Indian School: Basketball Champions of the World

Chérie Newman says:

Independent scholars Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith morphed their curiosity about an old photograph into "479 pages of highly readable Western history that adds a new storyline to Montana's narrative." (My full review was published in the February 16 issue of High Country News.

And the book, Full-Court Quest: The Girls from Fort Shaw Indian School: Basketball Champions of the World, has been adapted for television. Playing for the World, a Montana PBS documentary, made its debut on Sunday, February 15.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Elsie Fox: Portrait of an Activist

On Mother’s Day of 2006, ninety-eight-year-old Elsie Fox stepped up to a microphone at a park in Bozeman, Montana, and called for people to wake up, remember, act, and make a difference. Spanning a century, Elsie Fox: Portrait of an Activist is the biography of feisty Elsie Fox, who is now 101 years old. It tells the story of a woman who made activism her life.

Fox was born on a remote Eastern Montana ranch and nurtured by a strong desire to be self-reliant at a time when women were expected to be good housewives. She came of age in the rip-roaring decade of the twenties and witnessed the Depression in Seattle. which led her to discover Marxism and a like-minded husband. Those relationships led her to San Francisco and the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union where she worked for twenty-eight years.

Fox spent WWII fighting for her husband’s release from a Prisoner of War camp in the United States where he was being held as an illegal German alien. The book includes photos and paints a vivid picture of a woman who fights for what she believes, always asking, “If we don’t take action when there are problems in the world, then what are we?”

Elsie Fox: Portrait of an Activist was written by Karen Stevenson, from Miles City, Montana. Stevenson will be a guest on The Write Question February 15 and 19.

Click here to find out more about Karen Stevenson and listen to the program.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Buck Rogers at the Little Big Horn

by Craig Johnson

In my attempts to keep you abreast of the latest developments in forensic history, or in the re-telling thereof, it would appear that even if George Armstrong Custer had ridden into the valley of the Little Big Horn with a million troopers, they would've still fallen to defeat at the hands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who had been bathed in 'an invisible ray' that rendered each of them impervious to Misters Remington and Colt.

No, really.

According to Weekly World News the self-appointed 'World's Only Reliable News', and Dr. Angela Day Brewer, these protective rays left 'mysterious ultraviolet scars' in the earth of the famed 1876 battle. "These scars can only be seen through special infrared scopes." Or if you spend a few hours up at the Parkman Bar with a couple of my Cheyenne and Crow buddies getting your beer-goggles on.

"I and my colleagues had always suspected they (the rays) were caused by alien beings. Now we know for certain that they are." says Dr. Brewer.

According to Weekly World, those darned computers have finally been able to decipher electronic data from the UFO crash site at. You guessed it, Roswell, New Mexico.


'CIA cryptographer', Walter Frobel says, "The government doesn't want the public to know about the dead aliens. There's good solid evidence that these creatures were the same beings that recorded the events at the Little Big Horn. The data reveals the aliens made certain that there were no white survivors." No mention is made of Comanche, the Mustang/Morgan who also survived-one of only two horses buried by the U.S. Military with full honors.

Frobel elaborated by saying that the beings were from a galaxy billions of light-years away and have apparently been overseeing the development of various North American Indian tribes. Frobel goes on to say, "One passage we decoded clearly explains their reasons for getting involved in the Little Big Horn massacre. The excerpt reads, 'We know the Indian's days on planet earth are numbered because there are so many white men and they are so greedy'."

Speaking as a white man, I don't have too much of an argumentwith that last part, but it does make you wonder what the aliens were up to during Wounded Knee and Sand Creek.

In the interest of public knowledge and good reporting, I called up my buddy Marcus Red Thunder. His comment upon hearing that his ancestors had blownthe Seventh out of their collective saddles with laser beams?

"Are you drinking again?"

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Craig Johnson is the author of the Walt Longmire series. Find out more about Craig Johnson and his books at

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Write Question features Margot Kahn

Margot Kahn, author of Horses That Buck: The Story of Champion Bronc Rider Bill Smith, is the guest on The Write Question Sunday, January 25 and Thursday, January 29.

Horses That Buck is Kahn's first book. It tells the inside story of the glamor and pitfalls of earning a living as a rodeo cowboy and how one man made the transition from bronc rider to raising and training horses. Kahn spent seven years riding with Bill Smith, and researching and writing the book.

Click here to listen to the program online.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Reader’s Risk in Western Noir: Neil McMahon and Lone Creek

Inspiration was imminent after I listened to Neil McMahon give a reading. His charisma was contagious and his writing enthralled me. After reading an excerpt from his novel, Lone Creek, I wanted to read more and have since purchased the book.

To be entirely honest, the first page didn’t engage me. Yet, I forged ahead and the more I read the more I wanted to continue. My reaction to his genre of writing surprised me. In the past, I’ve never been interested in reading western noir or stories of ranch life. However, after reading Lone Creek my previous convictions
were trampled.

As a native of Helena, I am skeptical of all portrayals of my home land. I am protective of the beauty of the Helena valley and admire writers and artists that can appreciate the area as much as I do. While reading the descriptions of Helena and the Pettyjohn Ranch in Lone Creek, I felt proud of my home town. The detailed imagery made me feel as though I was walking in the golden grasses, that I could smell the stench of rotting horse carcasses, and feel the pummeling punches slugged into Hugh Davoren’s gut.

I am grateful to Neil McMahon for being the one writer that swayed my previous notions of noir writing. His work inspired me write about ranch life and the complexities of human interaction in such a setting. Montana writers are faced with the difficultly of encapsulating the beauty of Montana, especially the hidden and well protected treasures of the state.

To the readers of The Write Question blog, please take the time to pick up a copy of Neil McMahon’s writing and experience the authenticity of his work. Lone Creek is an engaging Montana mystery novel that is well worth the risk to read.

Lisa Teberg is currently a post-baccalaureate student, majoring in English with a focus in creative writing at the University of Montana.