Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Faithful, by Janet Fox

Sixteen-year-old Maggie Bennet's life is in tatters. Her mother has disappeared and is presumed dead. Her father has forced her to leave the privilege and wealth of their elegant Newport, Rhode Island, home and travel with him to Yellowstone National Park. Torn from the only life she has ever known, Maggie is furious, but, as a woman in 1904, powerless -- even when she discovers that her father intends to marry her off to a creepy older man.

Without being completely didactic, and while telling an engaging story, Faithful shows young readers what life was like during the early 1900s. 

This week on The Write Question, Janet Fox talks about and reads from Faithful, the first in a series of three novels Penguin plans to publish. She also talks about the constraints women born into privileged society in the eastern U.S. had to live with in the early 20th century.

Tune in Thursday, December 30, at 6:30 ( or 7:30 ( to hear Janet Fox on The Write Question

Get more information about Janet Fox and listen to the program online.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday Poems: "My Heart Like an Upside-Down Flame" - Melissa Kwasny

(title from a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire)

One walks, or wants to walk, with the glow
cupped by two hands. As if light were water.

As if lemon verbena,
a blossom around the solid figure of the wick.

But look what can happen.
The heart has been looted of its small valuables:

music, of course, and the dancing couple
from childhood, secure in their velvet-lined box.

What is it that so captivates us in the old cliché?
I am thinking of the light cast from the pines

or the first green shoots of onion.
Bird in the palm if only we were patient enough.

We who lay the fragile thing beating in the yard,
then trust the stray cat won't find it.

Here is the pile of gray feathers and grit.
Who was it who told us courage was a virtue?

A candle burns at solstice on a simple yellow plate.
After work hours, after the bills are paid.

The safe heart then, burrowed into its winter cave?
Fish bones and behind them, swimming.

What is it I expect the heart to do?
Follow me? A handmaid, arranging the bouquets?

Or this tree, then that one, a row of grayer birch
as the flame steps out from the shadows of its house.

* * *

"My Heart Like an Upside-Down Flame" is one of the poems in Melissa Kwasny's latest collection: Reading Novalis in Montana. Kwasny is the author of two previous books of poetry, The archival Birds and Thistle, winner of the Idaho Prize. She is also the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800 - 1950. She lives in western Montana.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pape’s Poetry Soothes the Soul

Greg Pape has published nine books of poetry and was Montana’s second Poet Laureate from 2007-2009. A true master of poetry, Pape implants a heavy dose of patience and keen awareness into all of his works. Whether he is eating a burger and fries in Miami, or tip-toeing down the Bitterroot Valley, Pape easily manages to throw the reader into his artful mind.

In his poem “First Hour,” Pape is a stealthy figure that isn’t just walking through the woods, but a figure that becomes the woods:

I walk so slowly even the coyote
trotting down through lodgepoles along the creek
doesn't see me until she is so close she hits
the wall of my scent, turns in a splash of snow
and doubles her pace back up the slope.

When Pape isn’t on land, his water poetry is just as soothing. When floating down one of his favorite rivers, Pape takes time to contemplate the origins of drowned cars along the streamside in his poem “Bitterroot Car-Body Riprap,” by asking:

Or was it the product
of a single vision, some warden who for years
stared at the wreck of a Studebaker
wedged between rocks, and forming a small eddy,
in the same spot it had come to rest
after the poor intoxicated driver had broken
through the guardrail and left the road for good?

In his ability of the imagination, Pape effortlessly captures lovely thought and plasters it down the paper, while also allowing the reader to follow and comprehend his narrative voice with ease.

I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for readings presented by Pape, as he does a great job getting around to the public. And if you aren’t in the area, check out one of his nine publications so you can see for yourself how attractive Pape’s writing truly is.


At age 22, Ross Klein has just finished his last semester at The University of Montana, where he graduated with a degree in Recreation Resources Management. Although born and raised in Colorado, Ross now considers Montana to be his new home. He is an avid rock climber, fly fisherman, and hunter.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Poems: "A True War Story" - by Roger Dunsmore


My friend's uncle
was a Marine in Korea.
His squad came to a cluster of huts,
smoke drifting up from one.
The squad leader ordered him
to go into that hut,
to kill everyone inside.
He stepped cautiously through the door
and waited for his eyes to adjust.
In the dim light he saw a Korean grandmother,
terrified children huddled up against her.
He squeezed the trigger on his M1,
emptied it into the thatched roof,
and stepped back out
through that doorway.
No one spoke.

Back home,
when he told the old people
what he had done,
they gave him a new name:
and made him
The Giver of Names
for new-born children.

*     *     *

Roger Dunsmore has spent the last 45 years as a poet and university professor. During that time, he has published several collections of poetry and twice been short-listed to the governor for the position of Poet Laureate of Montana. "A True War Story" is included in Dunsmore's latest collection: You're Just Dirt.

Listen to Chérie Newman's conversation with Roger Dunsmore.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Upstream With Thomas McGuane

a reading response by Cavin  Losett

Upstream: Fly Fishing in the American West, is a collaboration between internationally acclaimed writer Thomas McGuane and photographer Charles Lindsay. It uses stunning imagery along with short stories to depict the grace and beauty of fly-fishing in the American West. McGuane’s artfully crafted stories brought me back to my childhood and the countless days spent with line and rod between my fingers, and the simple splendor felt in the presence of twisting brooks and wandering rivers.

The various stories by McGuane in Upstream provide different glimpses into the art of fly-fishing, whether it be a funny tale of angling on a small stream in southern Montana or the rhythmic meditation of casting a size-fifteen fly during a tranquil Indian summer day, he ventures into the very soul of man to explore his need to fish.

Whatever drives some people to hunt lies in a great skein of elements that are beyond selective human control and may include both compassion and war making. Fishing, of course, is a part of hunting and anyone who not picked up its instruments and gone forth to feel the transmutation of the country before them has experienced a profound omission. It is what Orwell called a hole in the light.

McGuane evokes the significance of fishing within this book. He allows for fishing to be a tool for a greater evaluation of nature and the deep-rooted nature of man to go forth and exist as one with a stream.

Fly-fishing is elevated to a new level of spirituality within McGuane’s stories, is shown to be not a spiritual bond of man and God, but rather a bond of man and rod with nature.

Upstream provides a quintessential view of fly-fishing within the American West. Whether it is an avid fly-fisherman or a mere dabbler in the art, I strongly suggest this book. McGuane’s deep insight into angling combined with Lindsay’s photography brings the true nature and magnificence of fly-fishing to surface of the pages.


Cavin Losett is currently a junior in the creative writing program at the University of Montana in Missoula. His interests include fishing, guitar, writing, traveling, and soccer. His favorite fishing spot is the upper Stillwater River where his family owns land. He also enjoys casting along the Yellowstone and Blackfoot rivers and Rock Creek.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Year-End Special with Barbara Theroux and Zed

The Write Question for December 16 is a discussion about a few of the wonderful books published by regional authors during 2010. This evening Barbara Theroux and Zed join TWQ producer Chérie Newman to talk about as many books as they can in 30 minutes.

Those selections, as well as other recommendations, are on the Montana Public Radio Web site:

In addition to book talk, you'll also hear music by Jimmy Durante, The Browns, and Elvis Costello during the program.

Tune in at 6:30 ( or 7:30 ( or listen online anytime.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Poems: "Cream" - by Robert Wrigley


It helped to be sixteen and bored a fourth day
deep in the woods, though I like to think it
not just a weariness with trout, mountains, or trees,

but a measure of genius that, having brought back
to his brother and me in camp
the mostly meat-free rib cage of an elk,

my youngest son had also learned that with a mallet of leg bone
he could play on it "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"
and the first five notes of "Sunshine of Your Love."

* * *

Robert Wrigley's poetry has won the Pushcart Prize six times. His previous books include Lives of the Animals, winner of the Poets' Price; Reign of Snakes, which won the Kingsley Tufts Award; and In the Bank of Beautiful Sins, which was awarded the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award. "Cream" was published in his latest collection, Beautiful Country. Robert Wrigley lives with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes, in the woods near Moscow, Idaho.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alyson Hagy, Ghosts of Wyoming

With the stories in her latest story collection, Ghosts of Wyoming, Alyson Hagy illuminates the complex issues of life in the West with characters so real they could live down the street.

William Kittredge calls Hagy a "first-rate storyteller" and had this to say about Ghosts of Wyoming: "Alyson Hagy knows our lingo, our lands and people, our heartbreaks and glories, and our tragedies and sustaining myths, and how each runs through the others. Read and enjoy. Hope for more."

During this week's program, Hagy reads passages from several of the stories in this collection and talks about how the harsh landscape of southwest Wyoming shapes its inhabitants and her writing. She also talks about her first impression of Wyoming and the state's escalating land-use conflict.

You can hear The Write Question Thursday evening at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or at 7:30 (Montana Public Radio).

Or listen online.

Find out more about Alyson Hagy and her new book, Ghosts of Wyoming.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Poems: "Right" - by Richard Robbins


The other one has tried to reach it
across the ocean of the shoulder,
tried to stop it from hitting, from sending
a man to death with a scribbled word.

The body wishes it would listen
more to the body, refuse for once
this urge to travel an alley without
eye, tongue, or the two versatile feet.

The heart, tomorrow, will have her way
with it. Like the bones of the rib cage,
so birds of the air. The river will turn
in its path, the blue ground angle up,

every millionth part of God conspire
to bring the right to answer for itself,
for all the hands that closed or waved away
the weak untouchable things, come now

to throne, to town, his own driveway on
their knees to be healed.

*     *     * 

Richard Robbins grew up in Southern California and Montana. He studied with Richard Hugo and Madeline DeFrees at the University of Montana, where he earned his MFA in creative writing. Robbins has published four books of poems. "Right" is from his collection, Radioactive City, which won the 2009 Bellday Poetry Prize. Robbins directs the creative writing program and Good Thunder Reading Series at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hard Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch, by Mary Zeiss Stange

Why would two out-of-state college professors decide to buy a ranch in southeastern Montana, way out in the middle of nowhere? Maybe because they had romantic notions about solitude and land. Maybe because they didn't know any better.

Near the small town of Ekalaka, is where Mary Zeiss Stange and her husband, Doug, own and run the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch. Hard Grass is an account of running that ranch and an exploration of the myths and realities of ranch life in modern America.

In addition to ranching, Stange is professor of women's studies and religion at Skidmore College in upstate New York where, for eight years, she served as director of the women's studies program. Stange has written numerous articles for major magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals, and four books of nonfiction. Hard Grass is her latest.

"Scholar, rancher, hunter, and feminist, Mary Zeiss Stange finally gives the fly-over country of the West what it's been lacking: a nuanced portrait of its people and animals from someone invested in the harsh and beautiful landscape."
-- Ted Kerasote, author of Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt and
Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age

This week during The Write Question, Mary Zeiss Stange talks about why she and Doug bought their land, how they have resolved western landowner issues, and why they chose to raise bison on their place, instead of cattle.

You can hear The Write Question Thursday evening at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or at 7:30 (Montana Public Radio).

Or listen online.

Find out more about Mary Zeiss Stange and her new book, Hard Grass.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The People Are Dancing Again

New from the University of Washington Press, The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon, by Charles Wilkinson
"This book is well researched and beautifully documented, and is most accessible to the general reading public. It is, in many respects, a picture of the entire history of Native American policy."

- Rennard Strickland (Osage/Cherokee), author of Tonto's Revenge: Reflections on American Indian Culture and Policy

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Poems: "The Brodie" - by Ripley Hugo


High above the Clearwater River, first class
of the day, this sophomore student fiddles
with his pencil, unhappy in the front row.
Poems glide down the papers on desks
all around him. "You can't get started?"
I ask softly. "I have to think of something
else right now," he says miserably. When
I wait, he says, "This morning I spun a brodie
in the parking lot. My dad's pickup slammed
the concrete wall. I don't know how
it happened." I ask, "What was it like
when you spun the brodie?"
He writes in firm cursive:

The wheel was a world
I spun with a finger
so the school above,
the river below,
changed sides.

*     *     *

Ripley Hugo was born in Michigan and raised on the east side of the Continental Divide in Great Falls, Montana. After twenty years of teaching at universities and colleges across the country, she returned to Montana in 1973, married the poet Richard Hugo, and taught literature and creative writing at the University of Montana. She also worked for twelve years for the Montana Poets in the Schools program. "The Brodie" was published in Ripley Hugo's collection, On The Right Wind (2008 Cedar House Books).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dan O'Brien writes reality into fiction

Stolen Horses takes place in McDermot, Nebraska, where, as has happened in many other communities in the West, outsiders have moved in, seeking refuge from their hectic city lives. The conflicts that arise from this mix of cultures and attitudes is nothing new. But there's something about O'Brien's interpretation ...

The Native Americans who grazed their horses in the Pawnee Valley were pushed out by the white cattlemen in the late nineteenth century, who also took their horses. Now, descendants of the cattlemen are feeling pushed out of the same valley by modern outsiders. And everyone is feeling the insidious effects of modern medical practices that discriminate against clients without money. Things escalate after a journalist discovers a medical scandal that epitomizes the issues in this factionalized community.

Of course, there's romance (between people young and not-so-young) and horses and the excitement of unpredictable weather.

The prose is strong, the story moves forward without racing, breathless, toward a giant climax (although the ending will surprise and leave you with much to ponder), and, as John Nichols (author of The Milagro Beanfield War) said, "Dan O'Brien is a beautiful and sensitive writer."

Hear Dan O'Brien on The Write Question, Thursday evening at 6:30 ( or 7:30 (

Click here to get more information about Dan O'Brien and LISTEN ONLINE.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thomas McGuane, Driving on the Rim

Tom McGuane has a wicked sense of humor. And he knows how to make accessible stories from words like "fulminate" and "divagation" and "sangfroid." He's written nine novels, three works of nonfiction, two collections of stories, and several screenplays, including “Rancho Deluxe” and “Tom Horn.”

McGuane’s new book is a darkly humorous picaresque novel titled, Driving On The Rim.

Find out which story-telling family members were role models for young Tom, why he cut his successful screenplay-writing career short, and who was responsible for the influx of writers to southwest Montana.

Hear all that, plus a conversation about Driving on the Rim, during The Write Question, Thursday evening at 6:30 ( or 7:30 (

Get more information about McGuane, read reviews, and listen online:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Buzzy Jackson, Shaking The Family Tree

During this year's Humanities Montana Festival of the Book, The Write Question producer Chérie Newman will moderate a panel that includes Laura Munson, Ruth McLaughlin, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, and the intrepid Buzzy Jackson.

The memoir panel begins at one o'clock on Friday, October 29.

Here's a video that shows why Buzzy decided to write Shaking The Family Tree, as well as highlights from a few of her adventures.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Program Schedule and Reading List

Coming up on The Write Question during the next few weeks:

Frances McCue, Thomas McGuane, Dan O'Brien, and Mary Zeiss Stange

Chérie's been reading:

Nowhere To Run, a new Joe Pickett novel by C.J. Box
Hiroshima In The Morning, memoir by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
Ghosts Of Wyoming, a collection of short stories by Alyson Hagy
Bound Like Grass, memoir by Mary McLaughlin
Faithful, a young adult novel by Janet Fox 
Beautiful Country, a new poetry collection by Robert Wrigley
Shaking The Family Tree, memoir by Buzzy Jackson
Growing A Garden City, nonfiction by Jeremy N. Smith
Fairview Felines, a mystery for ages 9-12 by Michele Corriel
Hard Grass, memoir by Mary Zeiss Stange

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hiroshima in the Morning, by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

“Many writers write to find out who they are, and what they think, and where they fit into the world,” said Rahna Reiko Rizzuto to an audience at the Hiroshima YMCA. Exactly.

Although Rizzuto went to Hiroshima to do research for a novel, her seven months in Japan yielded much more: an in-depth and personal exploration of her family relationships as she interviewed survivors of the first atomic bombing during the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Her new memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, tells that complicated story.

But wait a minute.

Q:  Why is information about a memoir set in Japan and written by a Brooklyn author featured on a blog about western literature?

A:  Because Rizzuto turns the universal themes of motherhood, war, resilience, and identity into graceful, searing prose.

Shortly after she arrives in Hiroshima to interview survivors of the atomic bombing, Rizzuto experiences an unexpected transformation. “Now that I’m in Japan,” she writes, “I’m beginning to sense this mechanism in myself: there’s a distance, a small gap, between the neat labels I present on the outside, and the more turbulent urges I’m finding inside … Am I changing, or was I never that person in the first place?”

Hiroshima in the Morning chronicles Rizzuto’s transformation with painfully honest observations (“I never wanted to be a mother”) and heartbreaking anecdotes (“ …they brought her home, lying on a door. Her clothes were tattered and stuck to her skin. She died the next night, calling, ‘Mother, help me, please.’”).

And what Rizzuto learns about herself applies to us all.

“How we tell our stories makes all the difference. They are where we store our tears, where the eventual healing lies. If ‘we’ are talking, then we are safe in our group perspective; we do not have to own our experience alone, nor do we have to feel it … As scary, and painful, as it is to claim our pronouns, ‘we’ cannot inhabit our own lives until ‘I’ begins to speak.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Virginia Tranel writes her childhood friend's story

Benita Kane was the pretty one, the talented one, the girl all the other girls wanted to be. And no one knew she had a terrible secret.

Then, decades after she and Benita graduated from college together, Virginia Tranel began to hear rumors circulating in her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa: Benita was accusing Father Dunkel, the man who became their parish priest when they were young girls, of sexual abuse. Tranel re-established her relationship with Kane and eventually decided to write her story.

BENITA: prey for him is the true story of a bright, vivacious girl and the Catholic priest who lured her from childhood into a disastrous 20-year entanglement that changed the course of her life.
Hear Virginia Tranel talk with TWQ producer Chérie Newman Thursday evening at 6:30 on Yellowstone Public Radio) or at 7:30 on Montana Public Radio.

Find out more about Virginia Tranel and LISTEN ONLINE.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Christy Leskovar, Finding the Bad Inn

In her first book, One Night In A Bad Inn (the book she quit her successful career as an engineer to write), Christy Leskovar tells a whopping tale of family intrigue and mayhem.  That book was chosen as a 2007 High Plains Best Book Award finalist.

Now she's written the story behind the story. Finding The Bad Inn chronicles the adventures, joys, and challenges Leskovar encountered during her globe-trotting expeditions to find information about her family and write One Night In A Bad Inn.

Here's an excerpt:

Chapter One

While pondering the murder mystery at the beginning of my book One Night in a Bad Inn, and wondering whether my great-grandmother Sarah was complicit in the fire and that dead body turning up on the ranch, I wrote that how I found out what happened was "enough to fill a volume all its own, and perhaps one day it will."

And now it has.

This is the story of how I found out who started the fire, and how the body got there, and what really happened when my grandfather saved that man in the war, and why my grandmother was sent to an orphanage when she wasn’t an orphan, and so much more, and how I took those answers and wrote them into a book. It turned into quite a detective hunt, an adventure that took me across the globe, including a few misadventures I could have done without. As I discovered clues, pursued leads, followed threads, and was repeatedly dumbfounded by what I unearthed about my own relatives, I felt as if I were living in a novel. Though I had no idea what I would find when I began, I knew from the start that amid the scandals there stood at least one person of impeccable character and tremendous fortitude, an element of redemption giving me a positive reason to venture out into those uncharted waters. Otherwise, I never would have done it.

*     *     *     *     *

Find out more about Christy Leskovar, her writing, and her current book tour at her Web site.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


"It's been said that a place doesn't exist until a writer, a photographer, or a painter portrays it and presents a version of it to the rest of the culture." So says historian Dan Flores.

Visions of the Big Sky is the book. Dan Flores is the author/historian. The Write Question is the program. And, for the first time, a program will be continued. Part 1, September 30. Part 2, October 7.

Just a few of the questions you'll hear answered during these two programs: Why do writers congregate in Montana? Did Custer really have a Last Stand? What caused Fra Dana to quit painting? Why did eastern critics pan the landscape photography of Ansel Adams (and should we care what they think)?

Tune in Thursday, September 30 and October 7 -- 6:30 on Yellowstone Public Radio or 7:30 on Montana Public Radio.

Or listen online:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Carol Buchanan's Gold Under Ice

New from western author Carol Buchanan (and a new Montana-based publisher), Gold Under Ice.

Here's an excerpt:

     As if all the cannons of North and South fired a ragged volley, as if all the black powder in Alder Gulch blew, the ice over Alder Creek broke, boomed, split into clashing chunks; echoes rebounded on echoes, pulsing in Dan Stark’s ears, and blanching the faces of two men who had been skating just a minute before. The fat man walking on the ice disappeared.
     “Get a rope!” yelled Dan over the rolling thunder. “Run!"
     Martha McDowell hoisted her skirts to run stumbling through soft snow up Wallace Street, where men already hurried toward her with ropes in their hands.
     Dan could not wait for them. “Your scarf!” One of the skaters wore a muffler several feet long. Dan bolted toward an outcropping into the stream, cursing the snow that mired his ankles and pillowed the banks, obscuring their outlines. As he ran, a sense of relief rolled below the uppermost thought – save him, save him
     From the time the ice riming the shores had joined in the middle and thickened, all of Alder Gulch had waited for it to break and melt away, so they could return to work their gold claims. Now, in mid-April, the ice was breaking.
     The skater made a ball of his muffler, and pitched it to Dan, who caught its fringe, made a hasty loop, and ran as in a nightmare, seeming to get no closer. The black water foamed white, flung up slabs of ice, damming itself, then tore the dam apart, rampaging against its banks, scouring away snow, rocks, contraptions, claim markers, and hope. A few yards upstream, the fat man, arms flailing, broke the surface, gasped and coughed. How long could a man survive such cold?
     Dan threw the loop toward him as hard and as far as he could. Fell short. The man fought the water. Dan reeled the loop in, pushed through the snow as close as he dared to the tip of the outcrop. The sodden loop threw better when Dan flung it out and slightly downstream. The fat man plunged for it, and the creek hurled arm and shoulder into the loop. A slab of ice hit his head, and he sank. Dan braced himself, wrapping the scarf, stretched to a rope, around his hands. Squatting against the water’s jealous pull, he dug his heels into the snow. Yelled for help.
     Up the man came again, unconscious, his body given to the water and the cold, his arms limp. The roiling water tossed him, played with him, sent him past Dan. Though thinking he was dead – then why fight the flood? Dan braced himself, hauled on the rope. His boots could not find purchase; the creek dragged him toward its brink. He would drown, too, if he did not let go, but he could not bring himself to unwrap the cord biting into his hands, though the bank, leaning outward, settled under his feet.
     Christ, he thought, don’t let us both be carried away. The man rose higher in the water – or did the ground sink? Dan clenched his jaws and dug in his heels, almost sat in the snow: Goddammit he would win this battle with the creek, even if for a corpse.

*     *     *     *     *     *
Gold Under Ice is the sequel to Buchanan's award-winning first novel, God's Thunderbolt. Find out more about Carol Buchanan at her Web site:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale

Sneed B. Collard III has captured one of the West's premier rodeo events with photographs and stories in his new book The World Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale.

For sixty years, the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale has helped keep Western traditions alive. Begun as a way for local ranchers to get rid of spoiled and unruly ranch horses, the Sale today has grown into a four-day celebration of rodeo, ranching, arts, and culture.

The actual auction of bucking horses and bulls remains at the heart of the event, but the Bucking Horse Sale has become a celebration of all aspects of Western life. It is, quite simply, the Cowboy Mardi Gras.

Collard has written more than 50 books for young readers, and adults. In 2006, he won the prestigious Washington Post Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for his body of work.

Thursday, September 23, Collard talks with The Write Question producer Chérie Newman about the Bucking Horse Sale and reads from his book. He also talks about why he started his own publishing company.

6:30 p.m. on Yellowstone Public Radio
7:30 p.m. on Montana Public Radio
Anytime online:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Poets of the American West

If you think poetry is incomprehensible or just for English majors, a new collection could change your mind. New Poets of the American West, edited by Lowell Jaeger and published by Many Voices Press, is full of "accessible" poetry written by people who live and work in all the normal places.

In the book's introduction, University of Montana professor Brady Harrison writes: "In New Poets of the American West, we hear from Native Americans and first-generation immigrants, from ranchlanders and megaopolites, from poet-teachers and street-poets, and more. In fact, the West is so big, and home to such diversity that the deeper one reads in this anthology, the more voices and world views one encounters, the more textures of thought, emotion, and language one discovers, the less we may find ourselves able to speak of a single, stable something called the American West. Rather, we may find ourselves living in (or reading into) not one West, but many.”

This week on The Write Question, Sandra Alcosser, Montana's first Poet Laureate, joins me (Chérie Newman) to talk about this collection. Alcosser also reads several poems, including two of her own. Judy Blunt, Roger Dunsmore, David Romtvedt, and Kate Northrop also read.

You can listen to the program Thursday evening at 7:30 on Montana Public Radio, or at 6:30 on Yellowstone Public Radio. Or anytime online from this link.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Keir Graff and The Price of Liberty

Keir Graff grew up in Missoula, Montana, graduated from Hampshire College, and now works in Chicago as a Senior Editor for Booklist Online. Somehow during the last few years, while co-parenting two sons (with his über supportive wife, Marya) and working full-time, Graff has managed to publish four political crime novels.

Here's a description of his latest, The Price of Liberty (posted at Graff's Web site):

"Jack McEnroe is a construction worker with an unusual job: building a prison for terrorists. Like his neighbors in Red Rock, Wyoming, Jack isn't particularly concerned about politics. In a depressed rural economy, he's just grateful to have a job.

Jack's boss, Dave Fetters, is grateful, too: he has a no-bid, cost-plus contract issued by the previous administration. It's his last chance to get rich, and he's making the most of it.

But Dave is cooking the books, passing inflated costs along to defense contractor Halcyon Corporation—and Jack's ex-wife, Kyla, plans to blow the whistle. Suddenly, everyone Jack cares about, including his two young children, is in danger.

As the first winter snows fall in the rugged mountains, Jack must navigate a razor-wire labyrinth to rescue those he loves. And the true price of liberty, he discovers, is paid not in dollars, but human life."

Hear Keir Graff on The Write Question Thursday, September 9, at 6:30 p.m. (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 p.m. (Montana Public Radio).

Or use this link to listen online anytime and find more information about Keir Graff.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


When Stolen Horses appeared in my mailbox, I looked at the image of prairie sky and grasslands on the cover and sighed. Another western novel about tough men who ride horses and don't commit to relationships. Then I turned the book over and saw that it came from the University of Nebraska Press. Oh. Okay.

Somehow I'd missed Dan O'Brien's other books, but after reading this new novel, he's on my list to catch up with. The story takes place in McDermot, Nebraska, where, as has happened in many other communities in the West, outsiders have moved in, seeking refuge from their hectic city lives. The conflicts that arise from this mix of cultures and attitudes is nothing new. But there's something about O'Brien's interpretation ...

The Native Americans who grazed their horses in the Pawnee Valley were pushed out by the white cattlemen in the late nineteenth century, who also took their horses. Now,  descendants of the cattlemen are feeling pushed out of the same valley by modern outsiders. And everyone is feeling the insidious effects of modern medical practices that discriminate against clients without money. Things escalate after a journalist discovers a medical scandal that epitomizes the issues in this factionalized community.

Of course, the story includes romance (between people young and not-so-young) and horses and the excitement of unpredictable weather.

The prose is strong, the story moves forward without racing, breathless, toward a giant climax (although the ending will surprise and leave you with much to ponder), and, as John Nichols (author of The Milagro Beanfield War) said, "Dan O'Brien is a beautiful and sensitive writer."

NPR’s Alan Cheuse reviewed Stolen Horses on All Things Considered last night. Here's a link to that review.

Happy listening and reading,

Chérie Newman

P.S. Dan O'Brien will be on The Write Question sometime this fall.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kevin Canty's EVERYTHING

Kevin Canty's new novel is a big hit. Major media reviews of EVERYTHING have been positive and enthusiastic. According to Kevin O'Kelly at, EVERYTHING "is about people at turning points in their lives who think they don’t have any good choices, but who end up going forward anyway for the simple reason that they must." O'Kelly also praises the mechanics of Canty's writing: "Canty’s prose is spare but evocative: Ten of his words do more to convey the yearnings and pangs of his characters than other writers could achieve in 20."

If that doesn't make you want to read the book, here are links to a few more convicers.

The New York Times review.

EVERYTHING reviewed on NPR.

Review in the New Yorker.

Review from the Chicago Tribune.

Here's an excerpt from EVERYTHING:

The fifth of July, they went down to the river, RL and June, sat on the rocks with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red and talked about Taylor. The fifth of July was Taylor's birthday and they did this every year. He would have been fifty. RL had been his boyhood friend and June was married to him. He'd been dead eleven years.

This side channel used to be one of Taylor's favorite fishing spots, but five or six years before, a beer distributor from Sacramento had built a twenty-room log home right on the bank and then drove a Cat D6 into the river and piled up a wing dam, to keep his house from falling into the drink. This pushed all the current out of the side channel and into the main river. A few last big fish lurked down deep in the channel but mainly it was suckers. Still, it was a pretty spot to sit on a long evening, the shade of the tall cottonwoods slowly deepening into green water. A pretty spot if you turned away from the log palazzo. They sat on the rocks and watched the water trickle by, the cool splash of river water over gravel.

I wish . . . said June.

You wish for what? RL asked her.

I wish I had a cigarette, she said, and laughed. June smoked exactly one day a year, and this was the day. RL got one out, gave it to her, lit it. He was smoking a cigar himself. He had bought the pack specially for her. The two of them stared at the smoke as it curled through the still air. RL could just barely hear the trucks passing on the interstate, a mile away. The sound always made him lonely, the thought of all that highway, all that American night out there.

These anniversaries, said June. They keep sneaking up on me. He's been gone, now, longer than I ever knew him. Read more.

You can find more information about Kevin Canty and his books at his Web site:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Craig Johnson talks about JUNKYARD DOGS

Craig Johnson arrived for our interview wearing tall leather boots over his blue jeans and carrying a helmet. A Wyoming rancher riding a motorcycle around the northwest to promote his latest book? Yep. He's kinda like that.

Johnson has received high praise for his Sheriff Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man's Moccasins, and The Dark Horse, which received a superfecta of starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was named one of Publisher's Weekly's best books of the year (2009). Each has been a Booksense/IndieNext pick with The Cold Dish and The Dark Horse both DILYS award finalists and Death Without Company the Wyoming Historical Association's Book of the Year. Another Man's Moccasins received the Western Writer's of America Spur Award for best novel of 2008 as well as the Mountains and Plains award for fiction book of the year.

Johnson's new book, Junkyard Dogs, is number six in the Walt Longmire mystery series. But he didn't set out to write a series. Find out how it happened by listening to the program online.

Or tune in to Yellowstone Public Radio at 6:30 Thursday evening (August 19) or to Montana Public Radio at 7:30.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beautiful in the Mouth, poems by Keetje Kuipers

Keetje Kuipers has a unique way of "writing" poems: She goes for a walk without pen and paper (although she has, at least once, resorted to grabbing an advertising flyer from a mailbox and using a laundromat pen). Kuipers says walking creates a cadence that shapes language in her mind so, most of the time, she has a finished poem by the time she gets home.

The Write Question  is pleased to present Keetje Kuipers, a poet whose first collection has won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Tune in Thursday evening, August 12, at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio) to hear Kuipers talk about and read a few of the poems in her new collection, Beautiful in the Mouth. You can also listen online.

Why I Live West of the Rockies, by Keetje Kuipers

When I said I didn't want to live in
Pennsylvania, I meant it. The house out-
side Philadelphia rotting each limb
that's lost its use, your mother's soldered pout
as she hand over the china, wrinkled
hills of leafless trees spreading a browned gown,
the sparse lights of the Ivy Leagues sprinkled
on the horizon, academe gone down
like a fast ship on fire -- You could never
understand why I won't go back. Like all
shadows, our history's carved by weather-
bent sun. Against us, all the seasons. Fall,
then winter shortening our lives with bone
white snow, the home it will find over stone.

“I was immediately struck by the boldness of imagination, the strange cadences, and wild music of these poems. We should be glad that young poets like Keetje Kuipers are making their voices heard not by tearing up the old language but by making the old language new.”
— Thomas Lux

Thursday, August 5, 2010

James Lee Burke's new book, The Glass Rainbow

James Lee Burke's eagerly awaited new novel find Detective Dave Robicheaux back in New Iberia, Louisiana, and embroiled in the most harrowing and dangerous case of his career. During this program, Burke talks about and reads from THE GLASS RAINBOW, and expresses some opinions about impacts the gas and oil industry has had on Louisiana. 

Get more information about James Lee Burke and listen to The Write Question. 

James Lee Burke's Bibliography.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

David Emmons writes Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845 - 1910

The University of Oklahoma Press has just published a book that explores America's love-hate relationship with one of its most prominent immigrant groups. Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845 - 1910 was written by University of Montana Professor Emeritus of History David Emmons.

Montana Public Radio reporter Edward O'Brien talked with Emmons last week about the book, beginning with why he chose to examine that particular time in American and Irish history. 


And, here's a print interview with David Emmons from the University of Oklahoma Press:

Q:  What led you to write about the Irish in the West in the 1800s?

A:  When I was writing my book on the Irish in Butte, Montana, there were a couple of aspects of the Butte story that were particularly interesting to me. First, Butte was the complete antithesis of what the West was supposed to be; it violated every feature of the western myth. It was ethnically–which is to say culturally–diverse, densely urban, intensely industrial, and loud with the shouts of discouraging words. Secondly, it was the most Irish city in America in terms of percentage of total population, which likely made it the most Catholic city in America. In sum, Butte was the anti-west.

Q: Was Butte representative of the West during this time period?

A:  Butte wasn’t typical of anything, but what became more obvious to me was that much of the West was not what it was supposed to be, that the western myth, largely an invention of Easterners, had no place for Irish Catholics. Many of those easterners hadn’t ventured far beyond Buffalo, New York. Buffalo, Wyoming might as well have been the nether side of the moon. That did not, however, keep them from writing about Wyoming and the rest of western America. And what they wrote left no room for Irish Catholics. Butte wasn’t supposed to be in the West; its Catholic weren’t either. In a very real sense, they profaned this mythical and quite Protestant landscape. They were beyond the American pale—the unfixed and movable borders that served to identify and separate different cultures.

Q:  Why do you say Protestant?

A:  Because the West was America’s future, the newest and best part of a republic that defined itself as Protestant and consequently free. For many Americans, Catholicism was a form of slavery and, like chattel slavery in the South, had to be kept out of the West.  The problem was that, although America’s Protestant inspired republic had no place for Irish Catholics, America’s equally Protestant inspired capitalism desperately needed their labor, needed someone to dig holes, lift rocks, lay track, shoulder rifles, and scrub floors.  Capitalism won that minor–and usually unacknowledged– skirmish with republicanism; Irish Catholics were admitted to the West. There were a lot of Protestants, however, who hoped and prayed that the West would assimilate these outlandish papists into the American cultural system and make useful citizens of them.

Q:  Were the Irish Catholics assimilated into the culture of the American West?

A:  I don’t think so.  If anything, Irish Catholics assimilated the West to their own cultural system—not the entire West—there were parts of it where the Irish cohort was too small to amount to much. But in the places the Irish dominated numerically, they remained clannish and contrarian. There’s a huge irony in this: the West was seen as a place where people could go to be free. In unexpected ways, it was precisely that. But this meant that westering Irish were free to remain Irish–which is to say, unlikely and unwelcome Westerners. The farther west they went, the more Irish they could be, and that was exactly opposite of what was supposed to happen. Clustering together in their impenetrable clans and going west did not “make them white”–they were always that. It made them “verdant,” as one of their many critics called them; more luminously and aggressively green, or in less color-coded language,  more Irish and more Catholic because they were freer to be both.

Q: What were some of the consequences of the Irish remaining clannish?

They ranged from the tragic to the comical to the unexpected. For example, many Irish directly challenged the prevailing ideology of the “Indian wars.” They made a direct connection: the natives of the New World were being treated by white Americans pretty much as the native Catholics of old Ireland had been treated by the British. But I think the consequences were most strongly felt in what has been called the “Irish strain” in American labor. The Irish dominated the Western labor movement.  They dominated the eastern, too, but the social dynamics of the two regions were different. The labor force of all of industrializing America was racially and ethnically polyglot, but the western labor force was wildly so. Tony Lukas’s book Big Trouble: . . . a Struggle for the Soul of America dealt with the criminal trial of three western labor leaders—that’s claiming a lot for a single episode in America’s troubled labor history.  But one thing is certain—having the tribal Irish in charge of what I called the West’s “piebald proletariat” was to ask for big trouble.

Q: What do you mean by “Irish American class”?

A:  “Irish American class” is intended descriptively rather than analytically. I mean only to suggest that the Irish often behaved like social classes were expected to behave. They placed themselves in history and had their own arcane consciousness and habits of thought, which frequently had an antagonistic relationship with those of the dominant non-Irish. Out of this came a movement culture that was frankly countercultural. This sense of themselves was both the cause and the effect of their disinheritance. In America, all of them—rich, poor, and middling—were in one sense disinherited. They had been told that they had no legitimate claims on the West, which meant no legitimate claims on the American future. So they built their own West and their own future. Only Irish need apply.

David M. Emmons is professor Emeritus of History at the university of montana, Missoula, and the author of The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875 - 1925.

He now lives with his wife Caroline along Rattlesnake Creek just north of downtown Missoula, Montana, and 120 miles northwest and downstream of Butte, the capital of western America's "Irish Empire."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Carol Bradley and the horror of puppy mills

What is a puppy mill? Are there puppy mills in Montana, or in other western states? What happens to female dogs in puppy mills? What do you need to know before you purchase a puppy?

This week on The Write Question, Carol Bradley answers those questions and others, and reads from her new book, Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills.

Gracie's life started much like any other puppy's would: she slumbered with her littermates ninety percent of the day and nursed the other ten percent. But she never had the chance to go exploring. Instead, the black-and-white puppy was crammed in a crate with the rest of her litter. There was no room to run and play; there was barely enough room to stand. Gracie was one of the lucky dogs who eventually escaped this cruel existence.

Award-winning journalist Carol Bradley chronicles Gracie's makeover from a bedraggled animal, worn out from bearing puppies, into a loving, healthy member of her new family.

Hear Chérie Newman's interview with Carol Bradley Thursday, July 29, at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio). Or listen online.

Finding the Right Dog

You can avoid doing business with a puppy mill. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
  • Good breeders have nothing to hide. Don't let one talk you into meeting a some halfway point to sell you a puppy. Breeders should be happy to show you their kennel, where both the adults and the puppies are kept. Ask to stand in the doorway if the kennel operator doesn't want you inside the building. All of the dogs should be clean and healthy looking and protected from the elements.
  • Good breeders will test the parent dogs for hereditary diseases before breeding them. They will advise you on the health issues particular to the breed.
  • Good breeders will have a dog's registration papers ready when you pick up the dog. Their records will be complete and will organized.
  • Good breeders will provide documents outlining the vaccinations and any deworming the puppy has been given and what further shots or medicine the puppy needs.
  • Good breeders will want to check you out before selling you a puppy.
  • Good breeders don't work with a multitude of different breeds, nor do they advertise puppies for Christmas or other holidays.
  • Avoid buying dogs at pet wtores that do business with large-volume breeders.
  • Beware of wonderful-looking websites filled with photos of adorable puppies.
  • Consider adopting a cog from an animal shelter or a breed rescue group.
Find more information about puppy mills in Savie Gracie.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Richard O. Moore, Writing the Silences

The poems in Writing the Silences represent more than 60 years of Richard O. Moore’s work as a poet. Selected from seven full-length manuscripts written between 1946 and 2008, these poems reflect not only Moore’s place in literary history — he is the last of his generation of the legendary group of San Francisco Renaissance poets — but also his reemergence into today’s literary world after an important career as a filmmaker and producer in public radio and television. Writing the Silences reflects Moore’s commitment to freedom of form, his interest in language itself, and his dedication to issues of social justice and ecology.

This week (tonight) on The Write Question, Richard Moore will read several of his poems, in his wonderful mellifluous voice. He'll also talk about the early days of KPFA, the first community radio station in the United States, and what it was like to be a part of the San Franciscio poets' scene in the 1940s.

Listen online, or tune in this evening at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio) to hear Richard Moore.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zach Dundas IS The Renegade Sportsman

The Renegade Sportsman is one of those books with a beefy sub-title: "Drunken Runners, Bike Polo Superstars, Roller Derby Rebels, Killer Birds, and Other Uncommon Thrills on the Wild Frontier of Sports."

With a renegade's eyes and a fan's resolve, Zach Dundas takes us on a headlong, face-first dive into America's sporting underbelly. He scours the country to find the games, fans, and "athletes" you won't find on the sporting pages of your local newspaper. Through his harrowing and hilarious adventures, he begins to reconnect with the thrill of the sporting life, and he discovers a vibrant, beautiful, and thriving piece of American culture simmering right below the surface.

Dundas believes in the importance and delights of community sports and eschews gym culture. "You don't need a personal trainer to tell you how to exercise," he says. "You were born knowing how to exercise."

Dundas joins Chérie Newman this week on The Write Question to talk about his book and read a few choice parts.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ednor Therriault Satisfies Your Curiosity About Montana

Read all about Ednor Therriault's new book, Montana Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and Other Offbeat Stuff, in a previous post on this blog. Then listen to Chérie Newman's interview with Therriault, scheduled to air Thursday, July 8, at 6:30 p.m. (on Yellowstone Public Radio) and 7:30 p.m. (on Montana Public Radio).

Or listen online from the Montana Public Radio Web site.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Will the real Marianne Wiggins please stand up!

In her novel, The Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins writes about herself as a semi-fictional character. The story is also populated by other actual people who are not completely themselves. Then, a few pages in, here comes an historically accurate portrayal of photographer Edward S. Curtis interacting with made-up folks and a side-story about something Wiggins father really did, followed by more fiction.

Huh, you say?

If you open the book -- which one New York Times reviewer called a "puzzle-box of fiction, biography and memoir" -- with your mind wide open, you can expect to be amazed. Wiggins' skill at braiding fiction and nonfiction storylines into the reality of an engaging novel are impressive.

Hear Marianne Wiggins talk about The Shadow Catcher on The Write Question this evening at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio).

Click through to the Montana Public Radio Web site to listen to the program and find links to more information about the book.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just in time for summer travel: MONTANA CURIOSITIES

If you're planning to travel around in Montana this summer, Ednor Therriault can tell you where all the good stuff is. His new book, Montana Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff, is a guide to all things strange and weird in every part of Montana. Parts you've never heard of as well as parts well-known.

Use Montana Curiosities to plan your route across the state. (Therriault logged 8,000 Montana miles during his quest for quirky.) And plan to be surprised -- stunned, even.

As you drive into Cut Bank, you'll be greeted by a 27-foot-tall cement penguin. In Wolf Point, you can use an old phone to call your waitress, although she's standing about 15 feet away. Find out where to hear the one-man band of Erik "Fingers" Ray, or see a two-headed calf or a stuffed behemoth bovine.

If you've read Bob Wire's columns (Ednor Therriault, slightly disguised), which are published by, you'll know to anticipate a laugh-out-loud book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Laura Bell, author of Claiming Ground: A Memoir

Wyoming author Laura Bell is this week's guest on The Write Question.

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.

By turns cattle rancher, forest ranger, outfitter, masseuse, wife and mother, Bell vividly recounts her struggle to find solid earth in which to put down roots. Brimming with careful insight and written in a spare, radiant prose, her story is a heart-wrenching ode to the rough, enormous beauty of the Western landscape and the peculiar sweetness of hard labor, to finding oneself even in isolation, to a life formed by nature, and to the redemption of love, whether given or received.

Quietly profound and moving, astonishing in its honesty, in its deep familiarity with country rarely seen so clearly, and in beauties all its own, Claiming Ground is a truly singular memoir.

Hear Laura Bell talk about writing Claiming Ground and read from her book on The Write Question Thursday, June 10, at 6:30 p.m. (Yellowstone Public Radio) and/or 7:30 p.m. (Montana Public Radio). Or listen online.