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Books & Writers

At Colorado’s Artposium, Different Takes on Dwellings

So, an architect, an anthropologist, a poet and a Shelter Cart walk into a small-town event center and what do you have? An Artposium. And what the heck is an Artposium, you may ask? While that’s a question best answered by attending one, I’ll do my best to simulate the experience. So grab your invitational postcard, invest your $200, and get ready for some awesome conversation. Here’s the first thing you need to know about the Artposia: they’re held once or twice a year all over Colorado and each one is integrated into the local arts community. Each Artposium also hosts a month-long residency for artists, writers, composers and creators of all stripes. So far I’ve attended Artposia in Durango, Trinidad, Denver, and Salida, and there isn’t one where I haven’t come away with a richer knowledge of the history of the state I’ve lived in for 20 years. (Full disclosure: I completed an Art Ranch residency in Durango in 2007. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.)

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The Ringer, Chapter Two

Patricia Maestas sat home too early on a work day, sunk in Salvador's chair, a seat no one had occupied since he'd left for Mexico again six months before. The chair was hard around the edges and concave in the middle, covered in scratchy brown material that resembled burlap, so it had always been Salvador's private throne in the corner of the room. She rubbed her hands over the armrests and settled into the dent left by his body. It had been an hour since Tío Tiger called her at work to say he'd seen the article about Salvador being killed by the cops in a drug raid. Salvador had been dead for over a day without her knowing and she couldn't understand how that was possible. The father of her children, the man of her life: shouldn't she have felt something when it happened? Bewildered, she'd made her way home. When she first arrived she thought of taking the kids out of school but then thought, no, leave them a few more hours of not knowing. The afternoon sun began to fail, sending in a weak shaft that stopped just past the windows, but she could read the clock across the room as its red numbers flashed the day away: 3:45. The kids should have been home by now. She walked out on the porch, shielding her eyes to scan the street. The litany of terrible possibilities unspooled in her head. Then she saw Mia approaching from the end of the block, alone, heart-shaped face angled toward the pavement, dragging her backpack by one strap.

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Remebering Jack Schaefer: Gunning for ‘Shane’

Jack Schaefer put down his drink and rose from his chair. He went into his study and came back carrying a Colt .45. “Well,” I thought, “this is it. Schaefer’s finally going to shoot me for what I said about Shane.” Still, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go—a literature professor being shot by the guy who wrote Shane, Monte Walsh, Company of Cowards and Great Endurance Horse Race. Schaefer studied English literature at Columbia but he didn’t care much for literary scholars. He called scholarship “a dull and stupid waste of time.” He also gave a lecture titled “Only a Fool Would Write Westerns.” He and I first met when Schaefer came to Colorado State University as a writer-in-residence. I was a shavetail instructor with more brass than brains, and before long I was telling him my theory about Shane’s gun. In Chapter 4 young Bob says “I knew enough to know that the gun was a single-action Colt, the same model as the Regular Army issue . . . .” During the climactic showdown in Chapter 14 Bob observes that Shane “broke out the cylinder of his gun and reloaded it.” I pointed out to Schaefer that breaking out the cylinder of that particular firearm would leave Shane juggling the frame, the base pin (or cylinder pin), the cylinder and six bullets. “Darn awkward way to reload!” I said. (Did I mention that Schaefer didn’t like academics?)

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Loneliness and Laughter: Daniel Orozco’s ‘Orientation”

Idaho-based writer Daniel Orozco's first book, Orientation and Other Stories (Faber and Faber, 162 pages, $23), journeys to so many different places—from life among the perpetual painters of the Golden Gate Bridge, to Paraguay, where the deposed president of a Latin-American country lives in sumptuous exile, to white-collar and blue-collar American workplaces in Washington, California, and elsewhere—that it's hard to believe it's less than two hundred pages long. The years of care Orozco has put into this book—which was more than fifteen years in the making—are evident in every honed sentence. You can tell Orozco was having fun, challenging himself to try every possible narrative technique—first-person, second-person, third-person, perspectives that are limited to one character and some that are omniscient (including one that ventures briefly into the perspective of a pack of dogs), stories composed of several distinct episodes, and one comprised of entries from a police officer's log that build into a hilarious love story. Daniel Orozco will kick off his book tour in Moscow, Idaho with a reading from his pickup truck in front of BookPeople on Main Street on June 10 (7 p.m.). He'll read in Portland on June 23 at Powell's Books on Hawthorne (7:30 p.m.).

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The Ringer, Chapter One

On the first day of tee-ball practice, Ed O'Fallon learned that his primary mission in coaching his daughter's team would be to convince the fielders to pay attention to the action at the plate. Instead, the girls preferred to concentrate on refilling aeration holes with the grass-topped earth plugs that littered the outfield like turds. While the girls arrived, Ed checked his watch. He had two hours to spend with them before he left for work. The SWAT team commander had summoned him to assist on a high-risk warrant that afternoon. The dozen-odd girls assembled reasonably on time the Saturday morning of their first practice. The team's name—The Purple Unicorns—was a relic of the tee-ball league's first season, when the coaches allowed players to suggest and vote on names for each club. The schedule the league office had issued Ed listed such competitors as the Denver Dream Stars, The Butterfly Power, The Christinas—which Ed kind of liked—and the Colorado Princess Brigade, a coach-influenced name, Ed felt certain.

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Denver Librarian Finalist for Amazon Award & Jess Walter’s ‘Poets’ Becomes a Film

Gregory Hill, who works as a book buyer at the University of Denver's Penrose Library, is one of three finalists in the general fiction category for this year's Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. According to the contest website, Hill's novel, East of Denver, "tells the story of Shakespeare Williams, who returns to his family’s farm in eastern Colorado to find his widowed, senile father living in squalor. Facing the loss of the farm, Shakespeare hatches a plot with his father and a motley crew of his former high school classmates to rob the local bank." Greg Glasgow recently interviewed Hill for the University of Denver blog. Glasgow writes: "The story is based on Hill’s own past growing up in Joes, Colo. (called Dorsey, Colo., in the book), and his more recent experiences watching his father’s battle against Alzheimer’s disease." Also in the Roundup: The winners of the Reading the West Book Award, Filming on the adaptation of Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets begins in August, a poetry contest sponsored by the Denver County Fair, and regional book tours for Karl Marlantes, Janet Fox, Emma Donaghue, and Justin Cronin.

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What’s A ‘Honyocker Dream’? David Mogen Explains in New Memoir

Colorado State University English professor David Mogen recounts his peripatetic 1950's Montana childhood with good humor and insight in Honyocker Dreams: Montana Memories (University of Nebraska Press, 231 pages, $21.95). His father worked as a teacher and superintendent for school districts throughout Montana. Every few years, Mogen's parents would move with their six children to a new town for a different job—the towns the family lived in included Missoula, Ennis, Box Elder, Billings, Whitewater, and Froid, where Mogen graduated from high school. (When he went to college at Columbia in New York, one of his new classmates informed him that he pronounced the name of his hometown incorrectly.) Although there were many differences between these places—such as the contrast between lively Missoula, where Mogen's dad completed his studies through the G.I. Bill, and the "time warp" they encountered in Whitewater, population 75, where electricity had only recently been introduced—Mogen sees all of these towns as places where the prior generations enacted their "honyocker dreams." David Mogen will discuss his book at Matter Bookstore in Ft. Collins on August 25 at 7:30 p.m.

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Catch and Release

I don’t know when I will see Nathan again, and so I am taking him fishing. This is the best way I know to make the few hours we have today tangible, something that will last. Time will expand and distort and finally lose all its power in the focus on the cast and the fish and the flies. Tomorrow my boy will take his new degree and pack his meager belongings into his graduation wheels and drive two thousand miles away. My boy, as if he were a simple possession, as if he ever really belonged to me. His leaving evolved slowly, in the usual pattern of children, yet I am caught unaware, unprepared. Tomorrow is muddy run-off, hard to read, but today we will fish. The summer he was five years old, I took my son fishing for the first time. Nate was about to start school, and while I knew he would be gone for only half a day at first, it was a four-hour absence that was the first point on a line of infinite separation. No matter how close we were, how many games we played, how many secrets he might choose to share, part of his life would no longer include me. He would begin to create his own universe, one in which his mother could be no more than a minor constellation. The budding independence brought out in me an ambivalence I had expected intellectually, but for which I was viscerally unprepared. So I taught him to fish.

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Reading The West & High Plains Book Awards Finalists Announced

Last week two regional organizations announced the finalists for their annual book awards. I've listed the finalists below with links to New West's reviews of the books and author interviews. First, the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association announced the finalists for its Reading the West Book Awards (that's the new name of the MPIBA's longstanding book award series). The shortlist in the Adult category:Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs (Little, Brown and Co.) • The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) • Volt: Stories by Alan Heathcock (Graywolf Press) • Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America by Eric Jay Dolin (W.W. Norton) • The Ringer by Jenny Shank (The Permanent Press) Also in the Roundup: The finalists for the High Plains Book Awards, The Whitefish Review seeks donations for its ninth issue, The High Desert Journal announces a poetry prize, and the tally on how many books Oprah helped David Wroblewski and Cormac McCarthy sell.

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‘In This Light’ Collects Utah Writer Melanie Rae Thon’s Greatest Hits

The accomplished writer Melanie Rae Thon grew up in Montana and teaches at the University of Utah. In This Light: New & Selected Stories (Graywolf Press, 256 pages, $15) collects some of the highlights of her career, and there have been many—her stories have regularly appeared in the Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and Pushcart Prize anthologies. Thon frequently sets her stories in the West, but they follow none of the typical paths Western writers are often expected to take. Thon focuses on people who exist on the fringes of society, who are damaged, dispossessed, addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, or all three, people who never have the chance to stop and admire the landscape—like the homeless kids of Kalispell in her story "Heavenly Creatures"—they're too busy scrapping for survival. Thon relentlessly turns her attention on people that society ignores, and describes them with intense language in stories that are replete with ghosts.

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