A Little Life

November 22, 2015

Living in Neskaupstaður has already made me appreciate what people call “the little things.” Moving here, I knew that I would be learning how to slow down my life and take everything at a more relaxed pace. Right now, I’m lounging on the couch in my apartment listening to my Spotify Discovery Weekly playlist (who, seemingly, knows me better than I know myself) with zero things plaguing my mind. If you know me personally, you know that I always have 80,000 things going on at the same time, and right now I’m free of obligation. Well, at least for another two hours, when I head down to learn more from the head chef here at Hildibrand, Guðni.

This weekend we had our first Christmas buffet for guests. On Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas hits, we’ll be preparing both a hot and cold buffet of traditional Icelandic fare. That includes reindeer and goose patês, smoked guillemot in gelatin, smoked lamb, cured lamb, smoked salmon, gravlax w/ delicious gravlaxsósa (sauce), lamb & tempura shrimp sushi (Food Rule: to make any dish Icelandic, add smoked lamb!), cured goose breasts, baked ham and potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Toss in a couple desserts like a rhubarb cake and some gingerbread and cream sandwich cookes and you got yerself a good ole Icelandic Christmas. Þórður, a fellow in town who heads up the church choir, plays accordion in the lobby as the guests drink Christmas beer (beer w/ sweet malt) and a type of mulled wine.


Don’t forget the fried laufabrauð!

Þórður and I are getting together later on tonight to work on a troll musical he and I are writing. Yes, trolls! It’s going to be set in the area and talk about some of the trolls that currently are perched up on the mountaintops gazing down on our East Fjord town. So yep. Other than that, I don’t have much else going on.

And I’m totally okay with that.

I don’t mind having a whole day to myself, working a couple hours on the town blog or in the kitchen (or both), hanging out with my new friends, watching some “Fargo” (WHY ARE YOU NOT WATCHING THIS SEASON?!). I love looking out at the fjord, watching the unseen sun cast light on the mountains above me (we won’t get any direct sunlight until April or so), hearing the sea birds cackle and occasionally gander at the fishing boats that slowly trawl their way up and down the fjord bringing in the freshest catch. I meet a new person almost every day, and they’re all wonderful and smiling all the time. Whoever said Nordic folk are cold and distant got it all wrong, by the way.

Nothing feels better than to be enjoying my job, having zero money concerns (my expenses are super low here), and just breathing in the ocean air and sighing in pure satisfaction. I didn’t think it would be possible to rid myself of all that Jackson Hole stress or the depression I had kicking around behind closed doors. I’m finding a balance here. Sure, it took flying halfway around the world to find it, but man it feels good to be standing on solid ground.


Back in Iceland, of course. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s refreshing to be back in a place that breathes so much life into me. It injects me with creativity and a better understanding of the human spirit and what makes us tick. With seagulls cackling outside my window, I’m nestled in the town of Neskaupstaður (NES-koyp-stah-dur), about 9 hours from Reykjavík.

Neskaupstaður! What the fuck are you going to do in Neskaupstaður?”

Simply uttering the name of the town has caused my native Icelandic friends to short circuit. Even by Icelandic standards, the town is incredibly remote, nestled in Norðfjörður all the way in the East Fjords. To get here you have to cross a terrifyingly high and winding mountain pass (with a nauseatingly meager amount of guardrails) until you reach the entrance of a single-lane tunnel where an enormous metal door will automatically rise, inviting you into its cavernous maw. Once inside, the door closes and you’re trapped. The tunnel seems to be crumbling from above as small rocks and pebbles scatter the road, so I guess just make sure you step on it before it collapses. Another metal door rises on the other side of the tunnel letting you back into the free safe air…where you suddenly plunge down the winding road that leads down from the mountain into the town.

Don’t slow down.

Ultimately, if you make it here alive, Neskaupstaður can be quite the reward.

I’m doing WorkAway with a hotel here called the Hildibrand Hotel and was recently told by my boss that, along with doing other tasks, my primary focus will be working on a blog that will lure more people to this lovely little hamlet on the other side of a hellish pass of death. Many Icelanders know this town as “Little Moscow” as it was home to many communists back in the day (and possibly even today). This blog would detail life and culture in Neskaupstaður, and it’ll be my job to uncover the little secrets and beauties of this town in the East.

I realize that I’ve become some odd reincarnation Kevin Spacey’s character in “The Shipping News,” only I’m in Iceland rather than Newfoundland and I won’t just be writing about ships coming into harbor, though I imagine that will certainly come into play. And hopefully I don’t go crazy. Fingers crossed.

The new adventure is beginning. And although I haven’t blogged in a while, you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more from me about my life and my creative projects in the upcoming months.

Here we go…


Hey Friends! So, after a fun exciting weekend of play rehearsals, hiking and eating more watermelon than a normal human being should consume (two whole watermelons; three days…) I’m back and ready to tell you all about it!

Working as the Teen Program Coordinator at the Teton County Library has been such a rewarding experience. I started in March and my first major project has been to create 2015’s Teen Summer Reading program. I created a series of exciting events and was tasked to invite an author to town to help kick off the program. Luckily I managed to get my grubby mitts on Adam Silvera’s kick-ass debut, “More Happy Than Not”!

Barnes & Nobel says:

BN.com says: “Silvera’s debut is equal parts gut-punch and warm hug…” Totally agree!

I came across the book through my wonderful, well-read agent sister Rachel Simon (Follow her on Twitter!) who told me she’d heard SO many good things about the book, and that Adam was a really cool guy. I ended up contacting SOHO Teen through the Valley Bookstore e-mail (sneaky Munz…) and Adam’s publicist Meredith Barnes sent me an ARC.

Received. Consumed. Blown away!

I’d never read a book with LGBT teen characters that felt so relevant to both my own experience and so current. The voices were authentic, the plot was heartbreaking and I suddenly wanted to thrust the book into the hands of everyone I’d ever met.

I immediately knew Adam was the author I wanted to bring to Jackson Hole. I pitched the idea to him and Meredith, and they were in! O joyous day! We don’t get very many debut authors visiting our town, so I knew this was going to be a very special event. Once we got the contract signed, I got to work with promoting Teen Summer Reading and Adam’s visit. The library ended up purchasing and giving out 15 copies to teens; they all got snatched up within the day!

After months of anticipation, Adam finally arrived! We planned a series of events for his visit: a public chat between he and I and two writing workshops: a workshop for teens and a workshop for adults.

In a bittersweet turn of events, Friday, June 19th was SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY which hindered our turnout. There were a series of other events taking place in town, but most everyone was out enjoying the sunshine. However, we had 22 attentive guests join us for the chat. Covering a whirlwind of topics that ranged from discovering one’s sexuality to the many poignant topics featured in “More Happy Than Not”, the chat was lively and thought-provoking. The following Q & A session also ignited a few really insightful topics, some of which aren’t often openly discussed in our community. Adam proceeded to sign a few of his books and we went to the Snake River Brewery for a bite to eat.

Adam’s admirable determination to meet his deadline didn’t leave too much time for extracurricular activities, but the next day proved even more exciting as we prepared for two writing workshops free to the public.

The teen writing workshop had eight aspiring teenage authors in attendance ranging from ages 12 to 16. Adam offered up some fun writing prompts (ex. Write a story about a hero who has just defeated a villain; now write the same event from the villain’s point of view!) that got the teens thinking critically. Adam revealed that turtles unsettle him, launching the teens into full-scale attack mode. Mutant turtles! Snapping turtles! Giant sea turtles! The teens felt really connected to Adam and he did such a great job encouraging their creativity and being personable.

Keaghan shares her turtle story at the teen workshop!

Keaghan shares her turtle story at the teen workshop!

The adult workshop followed! Nine writers, all eager to learn about YA writing and publishing, attended the workshop. The focus surrounded young adult voices and how to access personal teenage experiences (no matter how long ago) while writing for the teens of today. Some writers had YA novels already in the works, while others, including one poet, was only just starting to take an interest in the YA market. Adam’s writing prompts were equally helpful and insightful, and the adults walked away with a great understanding of Adam’s process (and a copy of Adam’s book!).

The adult workshop was full of attentive writers eager to learn about the craft!

The adult workshop was full of attentive writers eager to learn about the craft!

Having Adam Silvera visit Jackson Hole was a truly wonderful experience, and definitely gave me a precursor to what my future book tour experiences might be like if/when “Blade of the Outlaw” gets published. I can only encourage other librarians and booksellers to get a hold of Adam’s people (contact mbarnes@sohopress.com) and have him visit your town. He has a wonderful personality, is absolutely hilarious and definitely is an author to watch!

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamSilvera, visit his website www.adamsilvera.com, and, most importantly, BUY HIS BOOK “More Happy Than Not”. 


Okay, okay, I get it… I keep making all these promises to keep up with the blog, and here I go again with all the excuses and the business and the blah blah, BUT! But I have been doing very important things like uh…writing and directing my own plays, guys! I also am the new Teen Program Coordinator at the Teton County Library so that’s pretty awesome too (and something that demands a whole lot of my attention and time). Who needs free time right? *sobs quietly* Right…?

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Andrew Munz Plays.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Andrew Munz Plays.

So! This winter Riot Act, Inc (one of Jackson’s non-profit theater companies) hosted a New Play Festival, encouraging aspiring playwrights to anonymously submit their plays for consideration. The plays had to be roughly 30 or so minutes in length, possess minimal sets and have no more than six actors. I ended up submitting two plays: “Three Step Rug” and “Tröllaskagi.” BOTH OF THEM GOT PICKED! I was thrilled. I already knew which of the two I wanted to direct…

“Three Step Rug” is a black comedy spy caper about a female agent named Moira Arrenholtz who is sent on her first assassination mission. However, when she’s face to with her target, things start to get out of hand. “Tröllaskagi” was something completely different. I’d never written a play with choreography involved so it was a very new experience. However, both plays turned out to be incredibly awesome, and I’m so thrilled with the outcome of both!

Watch the full performance of “Three Step Rug” (directed by Cynthia Huyffer) CLICK HERE!
Watch the full performance of “Tröllaskagi” (written/directed by ME) CLICK HERE!

The cast of Tröllaskagi gets ready for opening night!

The cast of Tröllaskagi gets ready for opening night!

A lot of people ask where the inspiration from “Tröllaskagi” came from (other than just Iceland, of course) because it really does stand out as an anomaly in my body of work. It’s dramatic, it’s fantastical and doesn’t have as much humor as people expect me to present. The idea of a fisherman washing up on shore was always present in my mind when I was whale watching. I had this recurring dream that our ship would sink and I’d wash up on some strange island other than Iceland. Helgi’s journey in the play has a lot of layers to it, and I hope that all comes across through the scenes and especially through the dances.

I wouldn’t have been able to make this play happen without getting permission to use Eivør Pálsdóttir’s song “Trøllabundin.” It sets the whole mood of the play and I didn’t want to use any other song in its place. You’ll certainly hear the song in the theatrical recording, but here’s the first version of the song that I heard. Hearing the ocean waves with it certainly inspired the ocean recording in the show.

You would think that I have time to breathe now that these plays are over, but I literally just started rehearsal for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Off Square Theatre Company. I’m playing Demetrius, and am STOKED!

More updates to come. I promise. :)


After tons of work, we finally were able to put “I 2 Can Ski Forever” in front of audiences. The show went over incredibly well, selling over 700 tickets (That’s like 10% of the town’s population, guys…) without hanging up a single poster! To have such a successful show during the off season in Jackson is unheard of, so I owe SO much to the fans who came out to support us… Totally humbled.

Kari & Mellow, the dog acting out

Kari & Mellow, the dog acting out “The Cache Creek Poo Chronicle.” Photo: Brad Boner

The two nights were full of anxiety for the entire cast because we had only rehearsed the week prior. Everything from the opening number to the finale was cobbled together in just four days, and SOMEHOW we pulled it off.

Kase and Kjera hike up Glory Bowl and ponder their next line.

Kase and Kjera hike up Glory Bowl and ponder their next line. Photo: Brad Boner 

As far as next year goes, we’ll have to see what happens. People are always leaving and coming back (myself included), but the audiences want more More MORE! Until then, I’m going to enjoy my small amount of rest before the One Acts kick off…


Hey friends. For those of you interested in my travels/adventures in Iceland this past year, I’ve compiled an awesome little video with tons of footage of the midnight sun and humpback whales. I hear there are talks of a sequel…



Hey friends! Since I’m still editing and cleaning things up with the novel, I can’t appease my friends’ request to post chapters of “Blade of the Outlaw” on here. BUT I’d happy offer up some bonus features here and there. There’s a LOT of extraneous material that I’ve written, from character diaries to poems to “official documents” from the world. Even some illustrations.

There is one poem in particular that is featured in “Blade of the Outlaw”. It was one of the first things I wrote once I finished a full outline of what used to be called “The Outlaws of Merrimere”. I wrote it in the sing-song limerick style common in traditional cowboy poetry. It’s penned by a character in the novel named Amelia Olmstead, who passes away before the novel begins. It details the attack on Merrimere in November of 1863, which is a huge catalyst for all the events that transpire in this novel and the rest of the series.

Best read aloud with a slight Western accent… ;)



Untamed are the lands that linger far off to the west.

Boldness oils hearts pumping deep beneath the chest.

Wyoming pioneers yearned for a place to disappear.

They formed the quiet township that we now call Merrimere.


Most of us were ranchers with cows behind a fence.

The ladies gambled fair and the men were mannered gents.

Our children played free like ponies running through the pasture,

And fat cats purred in barns seeking mice that they were after.


But when savage Va’Tee bought their chaos in the night,

The folks gathered together and agreed that they would fight.

There wouldn’t be a soul who would watch their township fall.

When the trumpets sang, the whole valley answered the call.


They raised their arms from homesteads and every wooded holler,

Swinging hangman nooses like they were hound-restraining collars.

With blade and bow our men fought hard with not a lick of fear,

All for the trees, the peaks, the streams, the town of Merrimere!


A day went by, then two, then three, from morning until dusk,

They disposed of the Va’Tee like soured corn within the husk.

Once the dust settled down on blood so freshly spilt,

They holstered smoking guns and sheathed their blades up to the hilt.


Sunlight returned, as it does, promising many dawns,

Only to disappear behind the evening Avalons.

And now the story’s told, though we’ve heard the tale before.

What is peace, but a passing pause within the War?


Rough Drafts, Rough Trails.

February 8, 2015

I must apologize for getting my readers’ hopes up and not posting a new blog in weeks! I was involved in a murder mystery theatre event that I adapted for a local theatre company called Off Square. It’s been occupying most of my free time, and any spare hours I can find, I’ve been making final edits on my novel. Apparently (according to my agent’s wonderful assistant) we’re gearing up to head out on submission. NUTS! I have no idea what to expect. The only piece of advice I’m taking to heart is to be patient. Really trying to incorporate that into all aspects of my life, bee-tee-dubs (BTW; by the way).

When I look over “Blade of the Outlaw” today, I’m so stoked to see how much it has evolved since I first wrote the rough draft over the course of three weeks in August 2012. I just threw up all over the page, incorporating filler sentences such as “blah, blah, blah…other stuff happens”, and “Leyton says something inspirational” before skipping to the next part I wanted to write. Real professional writing, folks. I didn’t understand the importance of a rough draft until I spent those three weeks in random Starbucks shops around Chicago. But in the moment, I wasn’t conscious about writing a rough draft, per se. I was writing a novel. I figured I just had to fix a couple things and then I could publish it! Boom! But by the time I got to the end (a whopping 93,000 words later), I realized that this story weren’t no War and Peace. Hell, it wasn’t even 50 Shades of Grey. It was this raggedy story standing on a curb getting splashed by cars driving through puddles. It was soaked in my inexperience as a writer. I didn’t outline anything. My fingers just seizure across the keyboard and this crappy book was the result.

This first iteration was called “The Outlaws of Merrimere” and it starred a character named Leyton Cole (which I ended up switching to Leyton Thacker by the 3rd draft). He was searching out his estranged uncle Wyatt Cole and was a sheep farmer, not a horse trainer. Also, there were no guns! I had written an entire western without a single gunshot (intentionally, mind you; I knew I wanted to have cowboys wielding swords, and figured the only way that could happen was to eliminate guns completely). I had forgotten characters I had introduced in the beginning of the book, perspectives changed, the tense changed, it was an absolute catastrophe of a book.

But I finished it!

I wrote it all out and got all those wacko ideas out of my head and onto the paper. I was proud of myself, but I wasn’t going to let a soul read it. That’s when I realized that this was only the beginning. I would have to do a full rewrite and figure out how to fix this thing. I promised myself that I would never open the rough draft again. I never used my rough draft as a reference. The story was still in my head. I would just start over and see what I could do to fix it.

It used to be SO DIFFERENT!

It used to be SO DIFFERENT!

The second iteration was called “The Outlaws of Merrimere” as well, but this time I focused on alternating chapters between two characters: Leyton Cole and Elias Thacker (now those last names are swapped, of course). It incorporated a lot more history about this alternate history I created because Elias was from New England—the British ruled colonies along the eastern coast. After a year of rewrites, I finished this draft and let some of my friends read through it. One came back and said, “It feels like you wrote two different books. It’s like a western in some chapters and then its steampunk in others.” That was a huge blow. I thought it was flawless this time! I thought I’d fixed everything. But this was another lesson. I was getting closer—Leyton’s world was making more sense to me—but things just weren’t connecting.

So I rewrote it again, this time in first-person. I retitled it “Blade of the Outlaw”, and solely focused on Leyton’s story. Since I had spent so much time writing about these characters, they started to become more real to me. I understood their motives and their speech patterns much better. Everything made more sense, and because I had fleshed out every aspect of Elias’s world, the alternate history could linger in my mind. Since writing it, I built an expansive outline for four books that follow “Blade”. Whether or not I ever write them, it’s comforting to know that they’re there just in case. Leyton’s story is so prevalent in my head and I think about him every day.

Because I’m embodying this “be patient” advice, I wanted to extend that to other writers. When you come up with a story, write as many words about it as you can. Even if it’s crappy writing. Just spew the story onto your computer screen or notepad and see where it goes. I’ve never met another writer who can write a perfect book in one go. I don’t think he or she exists. Writing takes time and a lot of brain power. But ultimately spending multiple years on one story can be the most rewarding experience you can have, because it awakens your creativity. Writers block happens! But, if my rough draft is any indication, you’re allowed to write things like “I don’t know what to write” and “other stuff happens here”. Why the hell not?

Writing a story is like excavating a fossil. You start off with a hammer and chisel, breaking off the heavy sediment, and then you work your way down to using a toothbrush to sweep away the little dirt specks that remain. Only then do you get to the point when it’s polished enough to display it in a museum, or, in this case, a bookstore.


Triple Shot XXII.

January 13, 2015

I used to be a 9-to-5er and I used to know what Tuesday felt like. Tuesdays were usually long and uneventful. Few meetings were scheduled on Tuesdays as they were usually the catch-up day for all the crap you couldn’t handle on Monday. Monday, with its staff meetings and clogged inboxes and fickle memories of a forgetful weekend.. Right now my challenge is getting used to the fact that I can somehow support myself by NOT having a Monday through Friday full time gig. This, of course, could change, but right now I’m still helping out at the bookstore and the juicery, writing for the paper, etc. etc. Lots of little gigs. Which means that specific days of the week don’t carry the emotions that they used to. Which (I think) I’m okay with.

There’s something to be said about routine. It’s refreshing to fall into a daily grind only to know that two days off linger on the horizon. Maybe I’ll return back to that lifestyle eventually, but right now I need to enjoy what I have. I’m learning to pump the breaks. Aspirations are important, but I’m figuring out how to love the Now. That being said, this is the twenty-second edition of Triple Shot, a blog covering three kick-ass things I’ve been enjoying this week.

1.) The Honorable Woman

You guys, there is SO much we need to watch. I get it. I’ve also learned how to filter things away from my interest. I’ve been successful in avoiding any and all episodes of Frasier (I think it’s about a lawyer), and have managed to destroy my interest in catching up with The Walking Dead to see how everyone dies/doesn’t die. Not into it. So, I’ve turned my eyes to BBC! Yes, you glorious, accented tall drink of across-the-pond water! I like you! And I absolutely LOVE Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Sundance Originals series, The Honorable Woman. She absolutely deserved her Golden Globe for this show. It’s all at once captivating, thrilling, tragic and terrifying. The story centers around a woman of Israeli descent whose company invests in communications technology that aims to bridge relations between the West Bank and Israel. From there, it gets absurdly complex that it would take a whole blog to explain it all. For now, try out the first episode. If you’re a House of Cards fan, you’ll be in heaven.

Nessa Stein (Gyllenhaal) is a beast.

Nessa Stein (Gyllenhaal) is a beast.

2.) Guster – Evermotion

JANUARY ALBUMS ARE IMPORTANT! They set the mood for the whole year. Never discount a January release. Now that I have that out of the way, I should mention it’s been a while since I considered Guster to be one of my favorite bands. There’s usually a fairly large gap between albums, but every time a new one comes out, I can’t help myself from listening to it over and over for days on end. This new album, the first one since 2010’s Easy Wonderful, instantly reminded me of The Shins’ 2007 album Wincing the Night Away (another January album). It’s whimsical, it’s catchy and give me low-fi Beach Boys vibrations. And those vibrations…are good ones. (pause for effect) But for real, it’s such a great new direction for these guys, as it covers new territory while honoring what makes them Guster in the first place: groovy guitars, on-point falsettos, but a glaring lack of bongos. What gives, duders? Regardless of its bongo-less vibes, I strongly recommend you pick it up. It’s the perfect, groovy January album. Choice songs: “Never Coming Down” and “Long Night”.

New Wave is the new wave.

New Wave is the new wave.

3.) Fluenz French

The coolest thing I’m doing right now, other than, you know, writing a novel, is that I’m learning French! I love languages so much. Thanks to the fact that I grew up in an Austrian household (real first generation stuff; none of that one-sixteenth-Irish stuff) I got to learn German while English became my main tongue. As a kid, I hated speaking German, but now I think it’s pretty darn cool. Had I not let German invade my mouth (poor word choice; sorry Poland), I likely would never be able to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull correctly. But now I’ve decided that French will be my next tongue and I’ve started learning by using Fluenz. I’ve used Rosetta Stone in the past, but didn’t find it as helpful as Fluenz. After a handful of levels, I really feel like I’m grasping the language, and its pronunciation and grammar. The program really breaks down the language for you and Sonia Gil is your attractive, cheeky instructor. I can’t say enough good things about this program. Q’uest-ce que vous voulez manger? Je veux ce plat, s’il vous plaît! 

Elle veut boire bière.

Elle veut boire une bière.

Until next time.


One of my favorite editorial notes from my agent and her assistant was for me to expand on the locations in my book. The note was a confusing one at first, but I quickly understood what they meant. Ultimately, for anyone who hasn’t been adventuring around the Rocky Mountain West, I imagine it would be difficult to imagine a landscape with both expansive, empty plains and towering mountains. You can traipse through a windy red-sand desert, and then, less than one hundred miles away, you can travel through dense pine forests up to a shimmering glacier. Wyoming is certainly its own animal and has one of the most diverse landscapes in the lower 48. Much like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Martin’s Westeros, I wanted to embrace the diversity of Wyoming in my own novel, and highlight the various terrains and locations that make up the 10th-largest and least-populated state.

As I linger with my manuscript, on the cusp of going out on submission, I’m trying to really dive into my own understanding of place. Wyoming is often a forgotten state, and, to many, an unknown one. Whenever I leave the mountain states and drift into the places where tradition fades and Culture (capital C) reigns, I’m often met with blank stares. Some of the most intelligent Chicagoans I met felt no shame in asking me, “Wyoming? Where is that in relation to Montana?” That’s like me forgetting that Pennsylvania exists! This Thanksgiving, Buzzfeed asked Brits to fill out state names, and a few of them were even able to nail Wyoming! But, again, I get it. From the outside, our state is like a plain Toaster Strudel with no filling or frosting. It’s even shaped like one. So a big reason for me writing “Blade of the Outlaw’ was to give Wyoming the love it deserves, and showcase it in the same way Middle-Earth is showcased. I want my readers to visit the Avalons (the Tetons) and drive through the Middleplain (Thunder Basin). I want them to hike through Courser River Canyon (Gros Ventre Wilderness) and see what a winter blizzard feels like near Windree (Riverton/Wind River Reservation). Maybe even see if they can discover Tuck’s Holler somewhere down in Hoback.

Across the Middleplain

Across the Middleplain

But when all of these feelings and images come so naturally to my own imagination, how does one plug that into the minds of a reader? I’ve mentioned before that “The Solace of Open Spaces” by Gretel Ehrlich is the best book about Wyoming ever written. I haven’t found another author who can really capture the frigidness of the landscape and the warmth of the people better than Gretel. Her chapter “About Men” manages to dissect the entire, complicated, multi-layered, dramatic, erratic, sheepish cowboy psyche in just a few pages. That chapter (among countless human inspirations) helped me shape the character of Leyton Thacker and what makes him tick. After reading through “Solace” six times now, I realize that it’s not the descriptions that Ehrlich writes so well. It’s the emotions that Wyoming yanks out of you. Despite the occasional poetic illustration, Ehrlich’s book is not about Wyoming’s landscape–it’s about the humans who live in it, the ways they survive and the ways they don’t. And THAT is what makes it so vivid and successful.

One of the agents who initially requested my full manuscript wrote: “I’m a little concerned that the narrator doesn’t read like a teenager. Even for historical fiction, the POV feels like that of a much older man… He speaks the way a man of 50 or 60 would look back on youth. To me, he’d certainly be a more jaded, world-weary teen, but he’d still be a teen. His youth wouldn’t feel so distant, and I couldn’t see a modern teen audience relating to him.” While this certainly could have derailed or discouraged me, I took it as an incredible compliment. Teenagers like Leyton are everywhere in the West, especially the West of the mid 19th-century. Under his father’s keen gaze, a boy will mature into a man by the age of 12 and possess the same amount of poise, manners, work ethic and grit of a much older gent. Anything less, and he won’t be trusted to pull his weight. Of course each teenager relates to the same internal issues, but with Leyton, he’s covered in dirt, his hands are calloused, his hat’s too small and his back is sore. He may as well be pushing 60…

Wyoming and the rest of the West was built on the backs of people who worked hard and never compromised. Cowboy country is not simply barn dances, yeehaw rodeos and bank robbers. It’s wrangling and cowpunching. It’s stocking enough feed for the winter. It’s pulling colts, calves and lambs from their mothers and hoping they last the morning. It’s wily kittens born in the hay. It’s mothers hoping their sons come back from pushing cattle across the state. It’s cigarettes and chew and whiskey and cheep beer. It’s guitars and fiddles and a little yodeling on the side. It’s sleepless nights under the stars and chasing after dogs chasing after deer. It’s old coffee and new dawns. It’s the feeling of your hat on your head and the pain of breaking in a new pair of boots. At its core, it’s all about giving it your all, no matter what that “it” might be. Leyton’s POV feels like an older man because there’s no room for a 17-year-old who acts 17 on a ranch. Especially a boy who (at the start of the novel) has been abandoned by both his mother and his father, and, on top of it, had to bury his grandmother and kill six men who tried to attack the ranch. He’s been hardened by his experience, and, as a result, has harbored a darkness that doesn’t get much sunlight.

Unforgiving Winter

Unforgiving Winter

So when it comes to capturing place, I think the most important thing is to capture your characters and understand how their settings affect them. My biggest challenge as a writer is to ensure that my readers and I are on the same page, no matter the page. As I continuously read through my manuscript, I am trying to keep location at the forefront of my mind. No, this isn’t one of those novels where “Wyoming is a character of its own”. Here, it’s a theme, something that smashes its foot on my characters’ goals and ambitions, something that shapes them and determines their choices. Wyoming itself is a force, perhaps The Force.

“It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi

For my characters, Wyoming surrounds them and penetrates them, and, because it links so many different geographical terrains, it truly binds the West together. As Leyton muses in the novel, Wyoming is the heart of the West. Now I just need to aim for that heart, and bury an arrowhead that can’t be mistaken for anyone’s but my own.

The adventure continues.



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