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 Boston.com, 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."