Monday, June 17, 2013

The Write Question blog has moved

The Write Question blog is still going strong, from a new location.

And while you're there, be sure to click on the RSS feed link so you won't miss any author information, book reviews and excerpts, Monday poems, or lists of recently-published books.

There's also lots going on at our Facebook page.

Monday Poems: "The Voice of the Father" -- by Joe Wilkins

Often, as mother bent her slender back
to the fields, or pulled the bloody slip
of a lamb into the world,
I wandered the house,
studying motes of dust brought to life
by sunlight. I was looking for you.

And though you were near—
in the picture on the piano, in the looping
scrawl on your old calendar, in that finger's width
of black hair tucked in an envelope
by mother's bed—I never found you,
never opened the door
that led to the cool room where you knelt
with your rag, where the polished wood of rifles
gleamed and the soap smell of oil
laddered the air.

                                       Yet you spoke to me.
When I climbed the piano bench
an wiped dust from the glass, you said, Look,
I charm the great dark bird from the sky,
I wear a tie and hold your mother at the waist,
I am this perfect hand of cards.

When I pulled the calendar from the wall
and rubbed my grubby fingers across your script,
you said, See the price of lambs last year,
get a nickel better. The battery in the Ford should last
until you're fourteen. For the best meat,
drop a doe after the first frost.

                                         And when I snuck
into mother's lonely room of rumpled sheets, opened
the yellow envelope, and touched to my lips
your clipped black lock, you said,
I have left you.


Joe Wilkins was raised on the high plains of eastern Montana and now lives in northern Iowa. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, Ecotone, The Sun Orion, and Slate, among other magazines and literary journals. "The Voice of the Father" was published in his 2012 collection of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Interview with Russell Rowland

Pete Hurley is not the first person to have the idea that building his dream house in the country will bring him some kind of peace and happiness. But he may be the first to arrive in Montana with a World Series ring, a three-legged dog, and a thirst for self-destruction.

High and Inside documents with stark clarity one man’s struggle with the dark side of fame, as well as his internal battles with alcoholism and a crumbling sense of self-identity. A community of people who love him and a generous inheritance aren’t enough to counterbalance Pete’s apparent determination to sabotage every healthy aspect of his life. It’s a downward spiral that won’t end until he’s forced to confront not only his own ugly past but his unfulfilled future as well.

With wit and compassion, sharp humor and startling insight, author Russell Rowland gives us not only a portrait of fame and addiction, but also an indispensable glimpse into the character of the modern West.

Find out more about Russell Rowland and listen to the program online, on the radio.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Young Adult Book Review: 'Eleanor & Park' by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin's Griffin, 2013

“He'd stop trying to bring her back,” is the first line of this second novel by Rainbow Rowell. We soon learn that “he” is Park, a sixteen-year old half-Asian boy who used to be friends with some of the popular kids on the bus and now mostly tries to lay low and stay out of their way.

And "she" is Eleanor – the new kid in school, with wild matted red hair and crazy clothes with patches and eccentric accessories, who doesn't even make any effort to try and fit in. She's new at school and, by the time she arrives, all of the seats on the bus are taken.

She stands uncertainly in the aisle until Park takes pity on her and tells her (in a not-very-nice way) to sit down next to him. For a long time, they don't look or speak to each other at all. But one day, Park notices that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulder, and a tentative friendship gradually develops.

The foreboding of the opening sentence of the novel hangs over the reader's head as we slowly fall in love with Park - the son of an all-American Vietnam veteran and his Korean hairstylist wife, and Eleanor - who lives in abject poverty and fear of her abusive step-father. And Eleanor and Park fall in love with each other.

The story takes place in the eighties, so Park and Eleanor share cassette tapes and listen to punk rock. But today's teens will have no trouble identifying with the intense feelings they develop for one another, and will unfortunately recognize some of the incidents of cruelty that Eleanor suffers at the hands of her peers as well.

If this book were a movie, it would be rated R for language, violence, and sex. But the tenderness of the love between the two protagonists, provides a stubborn sense of hope, against a backdrop of impending doom. I won't give away the ending. But I can almost guarantee that mature teen readers will love this book (and its quirky characters) as much as I did.

Rainbow Rowell lives in Omaha Nebraska, with her husband and two sons. She's also the author of Attachments. Visit her web site at

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Poems: "Gathering Mint" -- by Laurie Wagner Buyer

He woke quiet, ate potatoes and eggs
sitting alone on a cottonwood stump in the sun.

At noon he took a rifle, burlap bag, and handful
     of dried apples,
saddled the glass-eyed gelding, corralled
     the wayward mare,
whistled one long high note for the hound
     and was gone.

It was late the first summer, river running
     low, meadow grass tassels paled by wind.
I weeded the garden one faded row at a time
     while the goats lazed in barn shade
and the mare paced,
     nickering again and again.

He returned at dusk, drunk on solitude, singing
     in time with the gelding's rocky trot,
moccasined feet wet with mud,
     the burlap bag he tossed me
stuffed full of mint
     from the beaver slough.

Laurie Wagner Buyer's freelance articles and photographs have appeared in dozens of reviews, periodicals, journals, and anthologies. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, Glass-eyed Paint in the Rain, Red Colt Canyon, Across the High Divide, Cinch Up Your Saddle, Infinite Possibilities: A Haiku Journal, Accidental Voices, and Reluctant Traveler; a novel based on a true story Side Canyons; two memoirs, Spring’s Edge: A Ranch Wife’s Chronicles and When I Came West; and an e-book guide of self-editing tips Working with Words.

Laurie has received the Beryl Markham Prize for Creative Nonfiction, the Western Writer’s of America Spur Award in Poetry, has twice been named a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and for the Women Writing the West Willa Cather Literary Award. She also received the 2010 ForeWord Review Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention for When I Came West.

"Gathering Mint" was published in Graining the Mare: The Poetry of Ranch Women.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jo Deurbrouck, author of 'Anything Worth Doing

In Anything Worth Doing, Jo Deurbrouck tells the unforgettable true story of larger-than-life whitewater raft guides Clancy Reece and Jon Barker, two men who share a love of wild rivers and an unbending will to live life on their terms, no matter the cost.

Clancy’s motto, ‘Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,’ leads them into a decade of beautiful — and beautifully strange — river adventures. Then, on June 8, 1996, in pursuit of a 24-hour speed record they intend to share only with a handful of friends, the men launch Clancy’s handmade dory, his proudest possession, onto Idaho’s renowned Salmon River at peak flood of an extreme high water year. This time the odds catch up with them.

Anything Worth Doing is a 2012 National Outdoor Book Award winner.

Find out more about Jo Deurbrock and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Giddy-Up Daddy!' by Troy Cummings

Giddy-Up, Daddy!
written and illustrated by Troy Cummings
Random House, 2013

The dad in this story is really good at playing horsey... so good that when he is practicing jumps in the backyard, he is captured by horse rustlers!

The kids follow his footprints to a rodeo, where their dad catches sight of them and they hop onto his back. They ride the horse-dad right out of the rodeo and into a circus tent with the rustlers hot on their heels. They flee the circus, through a polo field, around the track at the Kentucky Derby and right into the wilds of Canada.

There, the children show their true identities as Canadian Mounties and capture the rustlers. They are celebrated in a huge parade featuring characters from all of the other scenes they have passed through on their chase.

The illustrations have a cartoony-clownish look which is appropriate to the over-the-top plot and non-stop action of the story. The first grade class I shared this with enjoyed the book, although it was a little long to sustain their attention. It may appeal more to the slightly older elementary crowd who will recognize the style of humor and design inspiration from cartoons such as Phineas and Ferb.

Perhaps the best part of the story is the clever ending, in which the children and their father return home to their mother who is waiting with open arms...
 "Who wants an airplane ride?" she asked. The mom was pretty good at airplane rides. Seriously, she was the best.
And on the very edge of the back end page is depicted the end of the mother's legs and feet, against a backdrop of sky.
Troy Cummings has been chomping at the bit to write this story ever since his two kids jumped on his back and started making horsey sounds. His illustrations have been featured in newspapers, magazines, card games, Humane Society newsletters, and an opera. Giddy-Up Daddy! is Troy's second picture book. You can see more of his work at

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday Poems: "Sisyphus Bee" -- by Robert Wrigley

I couldn't help it, I nearly fell asleep
on the grass in front of the tulips,
but lying there seemed to be
the best angle from which to see
and study the way the bee

worked from red lip to lip,
his legs by the third filled up
and by the fourth so heavy he
fell from the blossom onto me,
and I let him rest easy

for a while, though he slipped
on my belly hair and sipped
at a drop of sweat, maybe--
he was, it seemed, so thirsty --
then walked the half-length of me,

or of my torso at least, a trip
that cost him each step
a milligram of the load we
both knew was his goal and misery,
and how it was he'd come to be,

of all unflowery places, on me,
though in the sun I could also see
his long trail up my belly,
and the gold left behind each step,
before he flew, awkwardly,
to the next waiting tulip.


Robert Wrigley has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Idaho Commission on the Arts. His poems have been widely anthologized, twice included in Best American Poetry, and featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac.

He has taught at Lewis-Clark State College, Warren Wilson College, the University of Oregon, the University of Montana, Warren College, and the University of Idaho. He lives in Idaho with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes.

"Sisyphus Bee" was published in Wrigley's 2010 collection Beautiful Country.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Interview with Sharma Shields

This week, Chérie Newman talks with Spokane author Sharma Shields about the stories in her collection, Favorite Monster, winner of an Autumn House Fiction Prize. Shields also reads two short passages from the book.

"By all rights, these comic tales, with their cyclopses and serial killers, werewolves and writers, medusas and managers, ought to collapse into lighthearted whimsy. Instead they unfold into objects of extraordinary beauty and darkness, rendered in prose that can turn on a dime from the deadpan to the profound. Sharma Shields is a cutup, a sneak, and a badass -- she will crack you up with these charming beasts, and then, in a stage whisper, reveal who the real monster is. (Hint: it's you.)" -- J. Robert Lennon

Sharma Shields’ collection of stories Favorite Monster was chosen by Stewart O’Nan as the winner of the 2012 Autumn House Fiction Prize. Sharma’s short fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Fugue, and The Sonora Review. Her numerous awards include the Tim McGinnis Award for Humor, a grant from Artist Trust and the A.B. Guthrie Award for Outstanding Prose. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana and now lives in Spokane with her husband and young son. As an Information Specialist for the Spokane County Library District, Sharma founded T.W.I.N.E. — Teen Writers of the Inland Empire — a writing club for area youth.

This program will be broadcast over the following stations:
Or, listen online.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Mister and Lady Day' by Amy Novesky

Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her
by Amy Novesky
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Billie Holiday had lots of dogs: a poodle she carried in her pocket, a brown and white beagle, two Chihuahuas she fed with a baby bottle, a Great Dane, a wire-haired terrier and a mutt. But her favorite dog was a boxer named Mister.

She knit him sweaters, dressed him in a mink coat, cooked for him and took him for midnight walks. He waited for her in her dressing room when she performed and served as a sort of bodyguard.

It's a clever idea to frame a children's story about Billie Holiday around her beloved pets. Unfortunately, there isn't enough of a plot in this story for it to hold readers' attention. The climax takes place off-stage, when Holiday "gets into trouble" and has to "leave home for a year and a day" (during the period in which she is sentenced to prison for drug possession).

While there is no appropriate way to address this adult topic in a picture book for young children, the mysterious absence serves only to set up a joyous reunion with Mister when Holiday returns from prison, and then he waits in the wings when she returns to the stage for her comeback performance at Carnegie Hall.

The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton have a scrapbooky feel that is appropriate to the historical glamour of the subject matter, and the first graders I read this story to enjoyed the images of the dogs. On the whole, though this book will appeal more to adult fans of Billie Holiday than to the youth audience for whom it was intended.

Amy Novesky is the author of Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, which Publisher's Weekly called, "a rich and unexpected depiction of a treasured artist." She lives in Northern California with her family.

Vanessa Brantley Newton is the author-illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and the illustrator of One Love by Cedella Marley. She lives in North Carolina with her family.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, May 27, 2013

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 more than 40 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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Interview with Susanna Sonnenberg

This week's program features Susanna Sonnenberg talking about her second memoir, She Matters: A Life in Friendships.

From the publisher:
The New York Times called Susanna Sonnenberg “immensely gifted,” and Vogue , “scrupulously unsentimental.” Entertainment Weekly described Sonnenberg’s Her Last Death as “a bracing memoir about growing up rich and glamorous with a savagely inappropriate mother.” Now, Sonnenberg, with her unflinching eye and uncanny wisdom, has written a compulsively readable book about female friendship.

The best friend who broke up with you. The older girl at school you worshiped. The beloved college friend who changed. The friend you slept with. The friend who betrayed you. The friend you betrayed. Companions in travel, in discovery, in motherhood, in grief; the mentor, the model, the rescuer, the guide, the little sister. These have been the women in Susanna Sonnenberg’s life, friends tender, dominant, and crucial after her reckless mother gave her early lessons in womanhood.

She Matters: A Life in Friendships illuminates the friendships that have influenced, nourished, inspired, and haunted Susanna Sonnenberg — and sometimes torn her apart. Each has its own lessons that Sonnenberg seeks to understand. Her method is investigative and ruminative; her result, fearlessly observed portraits of friendships that will inspire all readers to consider the complexities of their own relationships. This electric book is testimony to the emotional significance of the intense bonds between women, whether shattered, shaky, or unbreakable.

Read a review of She Matters in the New York Times.

The Write Question featuring Susanna Sonnenberg will be broadcast over the following stations:
Or listen online.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Snippet the Early Riser' by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Snippet the Early Riser
by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

Snippet is a snail who likes to draw doodles on the sidewalk, make leaf sculptures, play soccer, and wake up early. His family likes to sleep in. He tries to wake his parents by knocking on their shells, hollering, turning on the shower and climbing on their backs, but he's stuck with a "family of slugs."

He enlists the help of all of his bug friends, but in spite of their numerous attempts, his family continues to sleep on the bottom of a leaf until Snippet is inspired by Caterpillar to start chewing...

The family wakes up to "breakfast in bed", but by that time Snippet  is growing tired himself and promptly falls asleep... until early the next morning!

Murguia's illustrations are simple pen and ink drawings with colorful details that perfectly capture the quirkiness of Snippet and his family. A sidebar featuring images of Snippet awake and asleep (rolled up in a ball) is a particular delight. End pages include additional monochrome drawings of snails with fun facts (e.g. "Snails sleep a lot." "Snails wake up very, very slowly." etc.).

I read this story to a class of first grade students who could probably relate to Snippet's dilemma of waking up before his parents. They liked watching the snails' piggyback rides and the way they finally "plunk" onto the ground. But they wondered why Snippet spent so much time trying to wake up his family once the other bugs arrived, asking, "Why didn't he just play with his friends instead?"

In spite of this one minor flaw in child-logic, Snippet the Early Riser provides a pleasant glimpse into a charming and magical bug world.

Bethanie Deeney Murguia is not the earliest riser in her household. She loves to draw, paint, and whenever possible, sleep in just a little longer. Bethanie earned her MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. These days she can be found in California. Visit her at

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Poems: "Rider" - by Mark Irwin

As I carried my mother from the hospital bed
across the room toward the chair by the window,
she played with my gold watch as if it were a toy,
flipping the strap up and down, then singing Giddyup,
Giddyup, but as I looked at her she did not smile
so I nodded my head, snorted, then put a pencil
in my mouth, as bit, and cantered about the room
till I was out of breath, puffing, and she patted me, saying,
Good boy, Good boy, so I pawed the carpet, slobbering a little
like her, as she waved and I nodded my mane
until this was how we said goodbye one spring
while the sun shrank to a white-hot BB among a thousand
others receding in the jeweled, black sky as the rivers
galloped away with her breath through the dark green land.

Mark Irwin was born in Faribault, Minnesota, and has lived throughout the United States and abroad in France and Italy. His poetry and essays have appeared widely in many literary magazines including The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Poetry, The Nation, New England Review, and The New Republic. A graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop (M.F.A.), he also holds a Ph.D. in English/Comparative Literature from Case Western Reserve University and has taught at a number of universities and colleges including The University of Iowa, Ohio University, University of Denver, University of Colorado/Boulder, University of Nevada, and Colorado College. The author of seven collections of poetry, including Against the Meanwhile, Wesleyan University Press (1989), Quick, Now, Always, BOA (1996), White City, BOA (2000), Bright Hunger, BOA (2004), Tall If, New Issues (2008), and Large White House Speaking, New Issues (2013), he has also translated two volumes of poetry, one from the French and one from the Romanian. His American Urn: New & Selected Poems (1987-2013) will appear in 2014. Recognition for his work includes The Nation/Discovery Award, four Pushcart Prizes, a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, Colorado and Ohio Art Council Fellowships, two Colorado Book Awards, the James Wright Poetry Award, and fellowships from the Fulbright, Lilly, and Wurlitzer Foundations. He lives in Colorado, and Los Angeles, where he teaches in the Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature Program at the University of Southern California.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Interview with Gregory Spatz

A grieving couple rents a desperate landlord’s house in an effort to recover lost intimacy. Twins are irrevocably separated by events both beyond and within their control. A nighttime prank and its gruesome aftermath forge human connections no one could have anticipated.

The eight stories in Half as Happy reveal with startling clarity their characters’ secrets, losses, and desires. Each with the depth of a novel, these insightful portraits of the darkness and light within us reverberate long after they’ve ended, like beautiful and disturbing dreams.

Find out more about Gregory Spatz, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg' by Lori Mortensen

Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg
by Lori Mortensen
illustrated by Michael Allen Austin
Clarion Books, 2013

Cowpoke Clyde is ready to relax after a long day on the ranch, when he notices that "ol' Dawg, his faithful, snorin' friend, [is] caked with mud from end to end." He fills his buckets to give Dawg a bath, but Dawg sets off on the run, creating mayhem as Clyde chases him across the ranch, splashing other animals along the way.

Michael Allen Austin's large, colorful illustrations perfectly capture the spirit of this story, portraying Clyde as a lanky, sharp-boned cowboy, and the animals as larger-than-life to emphasize the chaos that is created in the course of the chase.

Mortensen uses the time-honored folktale tradition of repetition and accumulation to convey the parade of animals that are "gettin' soaked instead of Dawg." The language is pleasingly rhythmic and peppered with the appropriate Western terms and details. And rhymes drop off with the final word in large print on the following page to encourage children to join in the telling of the story.

The first-grade students that I read this story to leaned forward in their seats as I read, and laughed aloud when the Dawg jumped into the tub with Clyde after he'd given up the chase. They loved the details in the illustrations (such as the cat, who on one page is chewing on a bone) and found the whole book to be funny and fun. This book is nearly perfect in style and execution: a rip-roaring read for children and adults alike.

Lori Mortensen is the award-winning author of more than two dozen books for children, including fiction and nonfiction picture books, easy readers, first graphic novels, and middle grade nonfiction. She lives with her husband and three children in California and reckons that - unlike Clyde - she'll never complete her chores. You can visit Lori online at

Michael Allen Austin is the creative director of a medical media company and the award-winning illustrator of ten books for children. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Kim, and their sheepdog, Riley, who - unlike Dawg - likes to roll in clean laundry. Michael's website is

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Poems: "The Hoot of The Owl" -- by Minerva Allen

The morning sun is bright and warm.
Children are playing; no worry of alarm. Listen!

The hoot of the owl three times.

The scout returns. The enemy is close by.
With speed of an eagle, the tribe is leaving.
Only the rings of the lodges are left on the ground.
Noise of lodge poles formed into travois; the whispering
of children. Each has his own chore.

Birds have stopped sining; dogs are all quiet.
Horses' ears are wiggling and they nicker to each other.

The tribe steals away in silence.

The evening sun is setting. Food is cooking
in the lodges. All is quiet
                    until the hoot
                    of the owl
                    three times.


Minerva Allen lives in northern Montana on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Lodge Pole with her family in the foothills of the Little Rockies, know as the Island Mountains to the Nakoda. She owns a ranch with cattle and many horses that roam the ridges in Big Warm. She coordinates the Lodge Pole Senior Programs and teaches the Nakoda Language.

"Hoot of The Owl" was published in her collection titled Nakoda Sky People (2012 Many Voice Press).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An Interview with Joe Wilkins

During this week's program, Chérie Newman talks with author and poet Joe Wilkins about his memoir The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry. He also reads from the book and reads two poems from his new collection, Notes From The Journey Westward.

Publisher's Description:

The Mountain and the Fathers explores the life of boys and men in the unforgiving, harsh world north of the Bull Mountains of eastern Montana in a drought afflicted area called the Big Dry, a land that chews up old and young alike. Joe Wilkins was born into this world, raised by a young mother and elderly grandfather following the untimely death of his father. That early loss stretches out across the Big Dry, and Wilkins uses his own story and those of the young boys and men growing up around him to examine the violence, confusion, and rural poverty found in this distinctly American landscape. Ultimately, these lives put forth a new examination of myth and manhood in the American west and cast a journalistic eye on how young men seek to transcend their surroundings in the search for a better life. Rather than dwell on grief or ruin, Wilkins’ memoir posits that it is our stories that sustain us, and The Mountain and The Fathers, much like the work of Norman MacClean or Jim Harrison, heralds the arrival of an instant literary classic.

The Mountain and the Fathers was a Montana Book Award Honor Book and was a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award.

Joe Wilkins' essay "Out West: Growing Up Hard," published by Orion magazine.

Find out more about Joe Wilkins, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'My Mom is the Best Circus' by Luciana Navarro Powell

My Mom is the Best Circus
by Luciana Navarro Powell
Robin Corey Books, 2013

Just in time for Mother's Day, Random House Children's Books has released a new board book which celebrates mothers by author/illustrator Luciana Navarro Powell.

In bright, colorful images, the mother in this story is portrayed as the ultimate super-mom, gliding through domestic tasks and keeping her children entertained before heading off to work in her business suit.

The focus of the story is squarely on the home, however, with mom's time at work passing in the flip of a page. The evening is spent cooking and clowning around with the kids before bath and bedtime.

The circus theme is clever, portraying mom as a ringmaster, juggler, acrobat and magician. But the finale is slightly disappointing, with mom's best stunt being "the sandman show."

Since no other adult is portrayed in the book, My Mom is the Best Circus might be an appealing choice for single mothers with young children. The board book format will hold up well to baby and toddler play. And every mother deserves a little applause on Mother's Day.

Luciana Navarro Powell is originally from Brazil and moved to the US in 2002. She has been a professional illustrator for about 14 years. She has worked with all kinds of media but eventually settled on the digital brush, since she loves the freedom it allows her and all the possibilities of experimentation.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday Poems: "As If darkness Can Mend It All" -- by Maya Jewell Zeller

I thought here I could summon you,
here where the first balsamroot
presents each sage-colored leaf
like an upside-down heart, apex
aimed at the sky.
I thought here I could call you forth,
here where the hills erupt
into a thousand white
and yellow eyes.
I thought here you'd listen
for the trickle of a new spring
spitting from the rocks.
I thought you'd want
to be mist.
But you've gone and found
a new cave.
The truth is you're tired
of all this damn
sunshine, this river
showing off its cheap jewelry,
robinsong, wingflick, white-
tailed deer with their quick tendons,
the new budding spruce,
even fresh bear scat
reminding you
how young you were.


Maya Jewell Zeller grew up in the northwest, mostly near coastal environments. She now lives in Spokane, where she teaches English at Gonzaga University and co-directs a literary reading series. Her poems appear in a number of literary journals, and her reviews and interviews can be found online. "As If darkness can Mend It All" was published in her collection, Rust Fish (2011, Lost Horse Press).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bruce Holbert: "I Killed My Friend"

Mike Kemp/In Pictures — Corbis
In North Dakota, a gun owner displays
hunting paraphernalia in a bedroom.
THE summer before my sophomore year in high school, I moved into my father’s house. My father had remarried and the only unoccupied bedroom in his house was the gun room. Against one wall was a gun case he had built in high school, and beside it were two empty refrigerators stocked with rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. My bed’s headboard resided against the other wall and, above it, a resigned-looking, marble-eyed, five-point mule deer’s head with a fedora on its antler rack.

The room had no windows, so the smell of gun oil filled my senses at least eight hours each day. It clung to my clothes like smoke, and like a smoker’s cigarettes, it became my smell. No one in my high school noticed. We all smelled like something: motorheads of motor oil, farm kids of wheat chaff and cow dung, athletes like footballs and grass, dopers like the other kind of grass.

It did not appear to anyone — including me — that residing within my family’s weapons cache might affect my life. Together, my three brothers own at least a dozen weapons and have yet to harm anyone with them. Despite their guns (or, arguably, because of them), they are quite peaceable. As for me, I have three guns, one inherited and two gifts, and I’m hardly a zealot. In fact I never had much interest in guns. Yet it is I who killed a man. 

It was the second week in August, a Friday the 13th, in fact, in 1982. I was with a group of college roommates who were getting ready to go to the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race. Three of us piled into a red Vega parked outside a friend’s house in Okanogan, Wash., me in the back seat. The driver, who worked with the county sheriff’s department, offered me his service revolver to examine. I turned the weapon onto its side, pointed it toward the door. The barrel, however, slipped when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty, and turned the gun toward the driver’s seat. When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing. When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round.

My friend, Doug, slumped in the driver’s seat, dying, and another friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, raced into the house for the phone.
The house sat beside one edge of a river valley and I knew that between the orchard at the opposite side and the next town was 20 miles of rock and pine. I was a cross-country champion in high school. I could run through the woods and find my way to my cousins, who lived far into the mountains. I could easily disappear. But I remained where I was, mindful that even if I ran, I would escape nothing. So, when the sirens finally whirred and the colored lights tumbled over the yard and the doors of the cruisers opened and a police sergeant asked who was responsible, I raised my hand and patted my chest and was arrested. 

Though the charges against me were eventually dropped, I have since been given diagnoses of a range of maladies, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and adult attention deficit disorders. The pharmacists fill the appropriate prescriptions, which temporarily salve my conscience, but serve neither my story nor the truth.

Where I grew up, masculinity involved schooling a mean dog to guard your truck or skipping the ignition spark to fire the points, and, of course, handling guns of all kinds. I was barely proficient in any of these areas. I understood what was expected of me and responded as best I could, but did so with distance that would, I hoped, keep me from being a total fraud in my own eyes.
Like many other young men, I mythologized guns and the ideas of manhood associated with them.

The gun lobby likes to say guns don’t kill people, people do. And they’re right, of course. I killed my friend; no one else did; no mechanism did. But this oversimplifies matters (as does the gun control advocates’ position that eliminating weapons will end violent crime).

My friend was killed by a man who misunderstood guns, who imagined that comfort with — and affection for — guns was a vital component of manhood. I did not recognize a gun for what it was: a machine constructed for a purpose, one in which I had no real interest. I treated a tool as an essential part of my identity, and the result is a dead man and a grieving family and a survivor numbed by guilt whose story lacks anything resembling a proper ending.

Bruce Holbert is the author of the novel “Lonesome Animals.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 28, 2013, on page SR8 of the New York Times, New York edition, with the headline: Sleeping With Guns.

An interview with Bruce Holbert.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Interview with Sherril Jaffe

A homeless woman takes up residence in a man's closet; a detective solves cases by feeling the emotions of the perpetrators; a woman happens upon a swingers' club in the back of a tire shop; a couple struggling with their pets' protracted endgame puts out a hit on them; and a man's mother, newly dead and buried, calls him to ask if she can visit.

The fifteen tales in You Are Not Alone & Other Stories are set in San Francisco. Each uses its own dream logic to illuminate the great human themes of death, love, jealousy, anger, desire, and the nature of the soul.

"These are stories where anything can happen, where we root for characters entangled by both everyday life and fantastical predicaments. Humor and loss weave tightly together through these pages, and Sherril Jaffe's formidable imagination and playful prose shine unexpected light on deep emotional truths." — Caitlin Horrocks

You Are Not Alone & Other Stories is winner of a Spokane Prize for Short Fiction.

Find out more about Sherril Jaffe, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Poems: "Curriculum Vitae" -- by Michael Earl Craig

There's a very distinguished-looking older man sitting near me
at the diner. His hair is silver, neatly combed.
His grey suit looks immaculate, a crisp handkerchief
in his chest pocket. A grandfatherly kindness emanates
from him as he eats his eggs. He is from a bygone era,
I'm thinking, as he gets up and turns toward me,
and now I see a large grease stain on his shirt,
which is partially un-tucked, and his belt appears
to be unbuckled. He staggers a bit as he stands,
bumping his chair back with his legs,
[some Billie Holiday, coming from the kitchen]
and glances at me for a second—a few seconds.
A restrained burp slips from his mouth.
He picks up the most gorgeous briefcase I have ever seen
and wields it respectfully, like a sword he has know all his life.


Michael Earl Craig grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University, the University of Montana, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Craig’s poetry collections include Can You Relax in My House (2002), Yes, Master (2006), and Thin Kimono (2010). His work has been included in the anthology Isn’t It Romantic (2004). "Curriculum Vitae" is from a book to be published in 2014. It recently appeared in an article in Montana Quarterly magazine. Michael Earl Craig lives near Livingston, Montana, and works as a farrier. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Celebrate Screen-Free Week 2013

This will be the third year that I will be celebrating Screen-Free Week with my family. Sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Screen-Free Week encourages children, families, schools, and communities to "turn off screens and turn on life."

We've done this to various degrees in previous years, depending on  how many school and work responsibilities that we've had that relied on technology. This year, I hope to make a clean break, steering clear of TV (which we don't own anyway), computers, tablets and electronic readers throughout the week, and only using my cell phone to make voice calls (no text). I will be encouraging my children to stay away from all of the same technology outside of school hours (and may share information about Screen-Free Week with their teachers and encourage them to limit screen time in the classroom to the extent possible as well).

Now that my children are six and nine years old, I admit that I'm looking forward to Screen-Free Week more than they (or my husband) are. But in spite of the challenges, we do find that each year we wind up spending more quality time with each other (and more time reading) when we're unplugged. This year, I hope to involve my children more in household responsibilities and to use more of my own time to play with them as well.

I'll be taking the next seven days off from blogging in honor of Screen-Free Week but will be back at The Write Question with another children's or young adult book review on Tuesday, May 7. I hope you'll join me in celebrating Screen-Free Week 2013 by reading a book with your family. More information about the event can be found at

Random House is also encouraging people to participate in Screen-Free Week this year, and has recruited some children's book authors and illustrators to explain why:

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Interview with Pam Houston

Stuck in a dead-end relationship, this fearless narrator leaves her metaphorical baggage behind and finds a comfort zone in the air, “feeling safest with one plane ticket in her hand and another in her underwear drawer.” She flies around the world, finding reasons to love life in dozens of far-flung places from Alaska to Bhutan. Along the way she weathers unplanned losses of altitude, air pressure, and landing gear. With the help of a squad of loyal, funny, wise friends and massage therapists, she learns to sort truth from self-deception, self-involvement from self-possession.

At last, having found a new partner “who loves Don DeLillo and the NHL” and a daughter “who needs you to teach her to dive and to laugh at herself” — not to mention two dogs and two horses — “staying home becomes more of an option. Maybe.”

During this week's program, Chérie Newman talks with Pam Houston about her book Contents May Have Shifted, a novel which Houston admits is about 87% true. So why didn't she publish it as a memoir? Newman wants to know. The answer has to do with the public's perception of truth and, of course, publishing industry lawyers.

During this interview, Pam mentions a piece she wrote titled "Corn Maze." Here's a link to that essay:

Find out more about Pam Houston and her books, and listen to the program on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Barnaby the Bedbug Detective' by Catherine Stier

Barnaby the Bedbug Detective
by Catherine Stier
illustrated by Karen Sapp
Albert Whitman & Company, 2013

Barnaby is a small dog in an animal shelter who dreams of being a superhero. He is too energetic and enthusiastic for most families with children, but he's just right for Martha. She promises Barnaby a good home and perhaps, even a special job.

After they get to know each other for a while, Martha takes Barnaby to "bedbug sniffing school." He has a good nose, and is rewarded with a squeaky toy every time he learns to correctly identify "a certain tangy scent."

Barnaby is one of the best students in his class, and after he graduates from canine training, he begins to accompany Martha to hotels and movie theaters, dormitories and airplanes, searching for the bedbug smell. One day they are called on to help a family with young children identify what has been causing the itchy bumps that have been appearing on their skin, and Barnaby sees the opportunity to become the hero he's always wanted to be.

Catherine Stier manages to create an engaging children's story out of an unusual topic for children's books. She weaves factual information with a sense of adventure, and Karen Sapp's illustrations depict some interesting dog training methods that would be difficult to explain with words alone.

An afterword and the endpapers provide more factual information about bedbugs (which are, apparently, on the rise, due to the chemicals that were once used to control them being banned), additional resources, and tips for keeping bedbugs out of your home.

Catherine Stier's award-winning books include If I Were President, If I Ran for President, and Bugs in My Hair?! She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her family. Please visit her at

Karen Sapp received her degree in illustration from Kingston University in London and now works as a freelance illustrator in her hometown of Crawley, England. Her favorite characters are animals, which she paints with her distinctive application of acrylics.
Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Poems: "Tonto" -- by Lowell Jaeger

We'd seen Tonto on TV
dismount, kneel,
press an ear to the prairie
and advise The Lone Raner
how many buffalo, how far.

A good trick
every Cub Scout should know,
though the only stampedes in our neighborhood
were occasional locomotives
charging across town.

And we'd been warned about trains.
Kids caught on the trestles,
stepping tie-by-tie
when the big black beast
rounded the bend and trampled them.

We stooped to lay our ears on cold rails, listening
for the clack-clack-clack
of unseen iron horses
pulling rust-buckets loaded
with pulp logs and scrap.

And stood, squinting into the distance
like Tonto,
claiming for sure
angry herds of boxcars
were headed our way.


Lowell Jaeger is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize, and recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council. He is founding editor of Many Voices Press and has taught creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College (Kalispell, Montana) for the past 30 years. Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting civil civic discourse.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An Interview with Emily Danforth

When Cameron Post's parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they'll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl

But that relief doesn't last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship--one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to "fix" her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self--even if she's not exactly sure who that is

The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the 2012 Montana Book Award.

Find out more about Emily Danforth, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Pronghorn Babies!' by Dick Kettlewell

Pronghorn Babies! by Dick Kettlewell
Farcountry Press, 2013

One of the latest in the Babies! series of board books by Farcountry Press, Pronghorn Babies! will keep your infant or toddler engaged with crisp close-up photos of real pronghorn babies and their mothers. The large sparse text on every other page is juxtaposed against a colorful background with squiggly borders and pronghorn prints as decoration.

The rhyming story traces a baby pronghorn's typical day: waking up, running, playing, wrestling, drinking from a creek and then snuggling up for a good night's sleep. This book doesn't present a lot of information about pronghorn biology or habitat, but the rhythmic language and endearing photos are just right for the very young audience that this book is geared towards. And the board book format will hold up well to tossing and teething as well!

Dick Kettlewell has worked in the high plains as a nature photographer for seventeen years. His work has appeared in well-known publications, including Smithsonian Magazine, and the New York Times. He has also published two books about the wildlife and landscapes of the high plains.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Poems: "Spirit Happy" -- by Michael Revere


thank the beggar
dressed in daisies
offer roses
to a thorn
carry castles
for the queenless
bless the bishop
for his scorn


plant sunflowers
in the morning
leave wild horses
by the sea
gather children
lost to darkness
scorn the lizard
long last free

                                     for Sadie, Chuck, Andy, Sylivia


Michael Revere is a writer, rock drummer, and laborer from Helena, Montana, who has conducted poetry readings and workshops at public venues throughout the U.S. "Spirit Happy" was published in War, Madness, & Love.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Craig Lancaster, author of Edward Adrift

It’s been a year of upheaval for Edward Stanton, a forty-two-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s lost his job. His trusted therapist has retired. His best friends have moved away. And even his nightly ritual of watching Dragnet reruns has been disrupted. All of this change has left Edward, who lives his life on a rigid schedule, completely flummoxed.

But when his friend Donna calls with news that her son Kyle is in trouble, Edward leaves his comfort zone in Billings, Montana, and drives to visit them in Boise, where he discovers Kyle has morphed from a sweet kid into a sullen adolescent. Inspired by dreams of the past, Edward goes against his routine and decides to drive to a small town in Colorado where he once spent a summer with his father—bringing Kyle along as his road trip companion. The two argue about football and music along the way, and amid their misadventures, they meet an eccentric motel owner who just might be the love of Edward’s sheltered life—if only he can let her.

Edward Adrift is Craig Lancaster’s sequel to 600 Hours of Edward.

Find out more about Criaig Lancaster, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'A Smidgen of Sky' by Dianna Dorisi Winget

A Smidgen of Sky
by Dianna Dorisi Winget
Harcourt Children's Books, 2012

Ten-year old Piper DeLuna is not happy about her mother's upcoming wedding. Piper's dad was a pilot whose plane crashed in a storm about four years ago, but his body was never found, so Piper still holds out hope that he may be alive somewhere. Piper's mom is now engaged to Ben Hutchings, a prison guard, who has a daughter Piper's age.

Unfortunately, Ginger is nothing like Piper. Piper wants to be a pilot, like her dad. Ginger wants to be a professional cheerleader. The girls have an antagonistic relationship, until it occurs to Piper that she may be able to prevent her mother from marrying Ginger's father if she is able to get Ben back together with his estranged first wife, Ginger's mom.

While doing research to hunt down Tina Liman, Piper stumbles upon a “people finder” who offers to help Piper find her father. Piper's plan to foil her mother's wedding plans works better than she expected, but she never could have anticipated the dangerous consequences that result from it.

First-time novelist Dianna Dorisi Winget hits the ground running with A Smidgen of Sky. Piper is a likable  believable character and the situation that she finds herself in escalates organically into a complex and thrilling climax. While the characters do face real danger, the descriptions are respectfully circumspect, making this book appropriate for older elementary school and pre-teen readers.

Dianna Dorisi Winget writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers. She is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest and lives in the mountains of north Idaho with her husband, daughter, and two canine buddies. A Smidgen of Sky is her first novel.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Poems: "Emergency Brake" -- by Dawn Losinger

The car will roll down the hill
Everything you own is disentangling.
Everything falls to the floor around the corner
into the wall. Through the window, a distortion of plains.

The car will roll down the hill.
Everything you own will betray you, tend towrard victim.
It is best to unload yourself.
It is best to unload as much as possible.
The car is the first to go, a muffled negotiation.

Finally your skull, heavy thing.

dawn lonsinger’s poems and lyric essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Guernica: A Magazine of Arts & Politics, New Orleans Review, Subtropics, Best New Poets 2010, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, Smartish Pace’s Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, and four Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes, and holds an MFA from Cornell University and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. "Emergency Brake" was published in her 2013 collection, Whelm.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

H. Lee Barnes, author of Cold Deck

Jude Helms is a Las Vegas casino dealer who barely survived the deadly MGM fire in 1980. More than two decades later, he’s still dealing, a tired, middle-aged man, divorced, struggling with debt, and trying to be a good father to his children. Then he loses his job and his car is totaled in an accident. When an attractive woman friend offers to help him get another job, Jude is happy to go along. Gradually, he realizes that his new job is part of an elaborate scheme to cheat a casino and that his own fate and that of his children depend on his finding the courage and ingenuity to extricate himself.

Cold Deck is the exciting story of an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. Moving from Las Vegas’s mean streets to the insider’s world of casino workers, this is a story of survival set against the greed, fears, and glitz of Sin City.

Find out more about H. Lee Barnes, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.