Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Alan Heathcock, author of Volt: Stories

For twelve years, Alan Heathcock sat alone, writing stories. Now, suddenly, he's a huge literary success.

Reviewers for the New York Times, NPR, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and many other publications, have raved about his new collection of stories, VOLT. Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review. Library Journal said this: "Heathcock is a writer to watch; each of these subtle stories will thrill readers with an element of surprise that will make them want to go back and see how it happened and what they missed along the way."

Alan Heathcock is currently out on tour, giving readings and interviews, signing books, and reeling from a surfeit of praise.

So how does he feel about all that? Find out during The Write Question -- Thursday evening at 6:30 ( or 7:30 ( Heathcock will talk about his writing life, the origins of some of the stories, and read the first few pages of "The Staying Train."

Get more information about Alan Heathcock and Volt, sign up for The Write Question podcast, or listen online.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Poems: "Jim Paar's Cabin" - by Philip J. Burgess


With every spring, high water comes to do its work
And deepen the bend in the river.
Every spring, muddy water swells and shaves away
another acre or so from Jim Paar's alfalfa field,
and a few more cottonwood trees
from a windbreak he planted back in the thirties.

As each season comes he spends less time in his field.
As each season goes Jim Paar gathers less hay.
Sometimes he has to borrow a team of heavy work horses
to drag his one-room cabin on its cottonwood skids,
retreating from the spring hunger of the river.
Every season, the old man spends more time watching water.


Winter slows and stops the river and now Jim Paar
sleeps late most mornings beneath a pile of dirty quilts.
He walks out on frozen water in the early afternoon
to chop ice and check his lines for winter catfish.
He walks down frozen dirt roads to sit silently by
a neighbor's stove, and spit tobacco juice in a coal bucket.
Later he reads Zane Grey westerns by kerosene lamp and weeps
winter tears as ice settles and cracks out on the river.


Jim Paar squats on a chopping block, spits Copenhagen
and watches the remnants of his alfalfa field where they tremble on
the edge of the crumbling river bank.
A storm cloud follows the river down the valley
and rain falls to strike sliding water.
Tomorrow he'll fetch the neighbor's black horses
to hitch up to the house one more time
and drag it deep into the woods, far from the river.


My brother and I break and enter his cabin where
it leans against an elm tree older than the century, leans away from the Model A Ford with crumbling tires
and a younger elm tree growing out of its trunk.
The two kid outlaws open a trap door in the cabin floor
and find two jars of tomatoes with rusty lids
and a plastic-wrapped photograph of the cabin
being pulled by a team of scruffy black horses.

 *     *     *     *     *

Philip J. Burgess was raised on an isolated ranch in eastern Montana. He now lives and works in Missoula. "Jim Paar's Cabin" was published in his 2001 collection, Badlands Child.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jenny Shank, author of 'The Ringer'

It starts out as a typical Saturday. Denver police officer Ed O'Fallon spends the morning coaching his 6-year-old daughter's tee-ball team, the Purple Unicorns. Later, he leaves home to join up with the S.W.A.T. team, to assist on a residential search warrant. But during that no-knock raid he shoots and kills a Mexican man. In the aftermath, Ed O'Fallon can't find typical anymore. His world becomes a tangle of guilt and pain.

The suspect's wife, Patricia, a nurse and mother of two, carries her own guilt: If she hadn't separated from her husband, he wouldn't have been in the house, which is exactly how her teen-aged son, Ray, sees the situation. Desperate to keep Ray out of the gang-related culture she sees him gravitating toward, Patricia signs him up for a competitive baseball league.

Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong, offers this comment about Jenny Shank's novel, The Ringer:

"This is a story in which two families from the opposite sides of town, from opposing cultures, are forced together because of violent death, and one of the things that saves them is baseball. Amazing! And it's even more amazing that Jenny Shank (or any other writer) can pull this off and make us believe it -- and keep us reading to the final out."

During this evening's program, Jenny Shank will talk about The Ringer, her first novel, and the ten-year process she went through to get it published. She'll also tell us how she balances writing, working, and caring for two small children.

Find out more about Jenny Shank, listen online, and/or sign up for The Write Question podcast.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio. It is also broadcast over the Yellowstone Public Radio network, and it's available at the Public Radio Exchange.

The Write Question is supported by Humanities Montana, Montana's Cultural Trust, and by public radio listeners.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Poems: "By the Lake" - Richard O. Moore

Past years are figures in old glass
wobbly in a lake
wrinkled by a stone.

The lake will settle down
a face will reappear
in a scent of evergreen.

Years are present as noon as now
or in a rippled moonglade night;
they summon shadow as in fragile memory
easy as stepping into a lake
breaking the present mirror.

It is the way events are stored,
they come back twisted
in wrinkles of water

blurred inscapes into today.

* * *

Richard O. Moore, now 91, is a poet, filmmaker, and seminal figure in public radio and television. Moore belonged to the San Francisco Renaissance literary circle of Kenneth Rexroth in the 1940s and 1950s, a precursor of the Beat poetry movement. "By the Lake" was published in his second collection, Writing the Silences.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jeff Hull, author of Streams of Consciousness and Pale Morning Done

Let's say you can't tell a trout from a tarpon, you think a bonefish is a fossil and that a fly shop sells airplane parts. Well then, fishing is probably not your passion. But that shouldn't stop you from reading Jeff Hull's collection of personal essays, Streams of Consciousness: Hip-Deep Dispatches from the River of Life.

Even though fishing is what the pieces have in common, these are tales of adventure brimming with insight and speckled with shiny bits of wisdom.

The same goes for Hull's novel, Pale Morning Done. Yes, it's a story populated with fishing guides, rivers, and water-use conflicts. But it's also a double-fisted love story: love for a person and love for a place.

Among other things, David James Duncan has this to say about Pale Morning Done:
"Jeff Hull has taken a pack of noncommitting males and females, slackers, trustifarians, hustlers and bullies, armed them with boats and fly rods, unleashed them on my favorite waters, and turned this betrayal into one of the great fly-fishing novels of our time."

Find out more about Jeff Hull and his writing.

During The Write Question this week, Hull will talk about his books and a few of the articles he's written for national magazines like Audubon, the New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly.

Tune in Thursday, March 17, at 6:30 p.m. ( or 7:30 (, or listen online anytime. You can also listen by signing up for The Write Question podcast.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Poems: "Cleaning the Office" - Tami Haaland

Essays and handouts go into files.
I toss memos into the recycling, old mail
into the trash, wipe down the desktop,
dust off the shelves, and the office
is clean except that poems
scatter around the computer,
chocolate smears the keyboard,
and this note written on birch bark, found
in the pages of a secondhand book,
leans against the calendar:
Sweet Sara, tonight we sleep
under the full moon, maybe hear wolves,
breathe the scent of fir and pine.
You would like it here Sara. Bear grass
grows along the mountain, paintbrush
and gentain stretch up from the creek,
sparks from the fire swirl
and dissolve under stars.

* * *

Tami Haaland teaches creative writing at Montana State University-Billings and received her MFA from Bennington College. Her work has recently been featured on the Writer's Almanac, in High Desert Journal, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 5 AM, and The Mom Egg. And in the anthologies, Letters to the World, Montana Women Writers, and Poems Across the Big Sky. "Cleaning the Office" was published in her collection titled Breath in Every Room, which won the Nicholas Roerich First Book Prize.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Charles Wilkinson, author of The People Are Dancing Again

"The history of the Siletz is in many ways the history of all Indian tribes in America: a story of heartache, perserverance, survival, and revival. It began in a resource-rich homeland thousands of years ago and today find a vigrant, modern community with a deeply held commitment to tradition.

"The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians--twenty-seven tribes speaking at least ten languages--were brought together on the Oregon Coast through treaties with the federal government from 1853 to 1855. For decades after, the Siletz people lost many traditional customs, saw their languages almost wiped out, and experienced poverty, killing diseases, and humiliation. Again and again, the federal government took great chunks of the magnificent, timber-rich homeland, as reservation of 1.1 million acres reaching a full 100 miles north to south on the Oregon Coast. By 1956, the tribe had been "terminated" under the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act, selling off the remaining land, cutting off federal health and education benefits, and denying tribal status. Poverty worsened and the sense of cultural loss deepened.

"But the Siletz people refused to give in. In 1977, after years of work and appeals to Congress, they became the second tribe in the nation to have its federal status, its treaty rights, and its sovereignty restored. Hand-in-glove with this federal recongnition of the tribe has come a recovery of some land--several hundred acres near Siletz and 9,000 acres of forest--and a profound cultural revival.

"This remarkable account, written by one of the nation's most respected experts in tribal law and history, is rich in the Indian voice and grounded in extensive research that includes oral tradition and personal interviews. It is a book that not only provides a deep and beautifully written account of the history of the Siletz, but reaches beyond region and tribe to tell a story that will inform the way all of us think about the past."
-- University of Washington Press

Hear Chérie Newman's interview with Charles Wilkinson, Tribal Chairman, Dee Pigsley, and Vice-Chairman, Bud Lane, Thursday, March 10, at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ruth McLaughlin wins the 2010 Montana Book Award

For the second year in a row, the Montana Book Award goes to a Great Falls author. Ruth McLaughlin has won the 2010 prize for her memoir, Bound Like Grass: A Memoir from the Western High Plains. (Jamie Ford's novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, won the 2009 award.)

Bound Like Grass is an engaging story that encompasses three generations: the idealistic homesteader grandparents, the hard-working parents, and the children who grew up, moved away and never returned.

The Montana Book Award is an annual award that recognizes literary and/or artistic excellence in a book published during the award year. Eligible titles are set in Montana, deal with Montana themes or issues, or are written, edited, or illustrated by a Montana author or artist. Books for all ages are considered for the award.

Also nominated for the 2010 award were Everything, by Kevin Canty (the only fiction book nominated), Goodbye Wifes and Daughters, by Susan Resnick, The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick, and Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West by Dan Flores.

Read about the award and some of the books at M. Mark Miller's blog. Miller is a reader for the Montana Book Award.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday Poems: "The Dead Guy and the Evangelist" - William Notter

A guy wearing a tie and a soaking shirt
was handing out religious pamphlets
today at the truckstop, asking everybody
have they been saved from eternal damnation by Christ
our personal lord and savior. I'd just picked up
four deads that were three days gone
from the heat down at Shafer Brothers Feedlot.
My mind was on air conditioning and fueling up
so I could get my load back to the plant.
He came over, wearing enough cologne
to keep a dog away from a dead wagon,
and asked me if I know where I'm going
when I die. A rancher who called me once
to carry off a palomino asked
how I liked the resurrection business,
and so I told that preacher I wasn't sure,
but I work in resurrection too,
and had to get a load to Wauneta before it spoiled.

Who is he to ask me where I'm going
when I die? Me and that preacher and a millionaire
will end up drained and pickled and dressed
in suits, and that's all any of us knows.
What's left is just a carcass the undertaker
powders and buries instead of hauling off
to the rendering plant. We both keep
the dead from piling up. People would know
if somebody wasn't there to keep those cows
from laying around getting ripe where they died.

I don't need to imagine more of a heaven
than the light inside of Five Springs Canyon
afternoons when cutthroats pop the surface
and bite on anything you throw in the water,
or watching pheasants break from a field of cornstalks,
or even having Rhonda call me Darlin'
when I stop for lunch at the Conestoga Grill.
I won't say I'm ready. But if I got run over
by a sugar beet truck tonight, I could die knowing
I did some good in life, that I was willing
to do a job not many people would do.

*     *     *     *     *
William Notter has taught writing at Grand Valley State University and the University of Nevada, Reno, and is the author of the award-winning chapbook More Space Than Anyone Can Stand. His poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, AGNI Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, Willow Springs, the anthology Good Poems for Hard Times, and on NPR's The Writer's Almanac.

"The Dead Guy and the Evangelist" is from Notter's 2009 collection, Holding Everything Down.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Carol Bradley exposes 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, March 3, 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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

West of Here, "... a damn fine book"

Jonathan Evision's second novel is an ambitious epic set in the Pacific Northwest. Publisher's Weekly gives it a starred review and this praise: "A big novel about the discovery and rediscovery of nature, starting over, and the sometimes piercing reverberations of history. This is a damn fine book."

West of Here starts off with this:
"Just as the keynote address was winding down, the rain came hissing up the little valley in sheets. Crepe paper streamers began bleeding red and blue streaks down the front of the dirty white stage, and the canopy began to sag beneath the weight of standing water, draining a cold rivulet down the tuba player's back."

Here's a link to a review of West of Here, written by Carolyn Kellogg for the L.A. Times.

Johathan Evision in the author of one other novel, All About Lulu, which won the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, he was the recipient of a Rickard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. He lives on an island in western Washington.