By Martin Kidston
When the presentations ended Friday at the Montana Book Festival, authors and attendees flocked to the Florence Building in downtown Missoula for something of an after-hours party.
With cameras flashing and strands of festive lights dangling over trays piled high with fruit, dip and olives stuffed with juicy red pimientos, several of the assembled writers and readers were asked to contemplate the age-old question: Does everyone have a story to tell?
The answer was unanimous – of course they do.
As Caroline Patterson noted, stories are as old as fire and the desire to tell them begins early in life. A teacher with the Montana Writing Collaborative, she helps kids find their voice and put pen to paper.
“They begin with stories about bicycle jumps, or stories about ice princesses,” said Patterson. “They begin with stories about imaginary worlds and stories with odes to pickles and ice cream. Then they become bigger stories, more layered stories and more complicated stories.”
Kevin Canty, author of several novels and collections of short fiction, considered a quote from fabled author Flannery O’Connor while standing in line for cocktails.
Once, when asked if a writer needs a lot of experience to write a story, O’Connor quipped, “If you can’t make a story out of a little bit of experience, how are you going to make a story out of a lot?”
“I think everyone has fallen in love, had a parent pass away or faced a serious illness – all the things stories are made of,” Canty said. “There’s a certain amount of craft between having the material and being able to do something about it.”
Many of those in attendance at this year’s festival, sponsored by the likes of Fact and Fiction and the Bookstore at the University of Montana, came in search of advice, inspiration and the courage to begin putting words to paper.
Karen Crow, a new Missoula resident inspired to write after participating in the MOLLI program at UM, recently attended the Beargrass Writing Retreat sponsored by the 406 Writers Workshop in Missoula.
She carried that momentum with her into this year’s festival.
“I decided to keep that energy alive by coming and hearing different genres of writing and learn more processes writers use to finish something they can get printed and sold,” said Crow, adding that she was inspired by the festival’s panel on flash fiction.
“I’ve always written very short things and never knew what to do with them,” she said. “I’m going to pull out all those short things I’ve written and find out where they fit in that genre.”
Crow, like the others, believes everyone has an experience that can be told as a story.
Sue Purbis, who recently completed her memoir as an avalanche dog handler, agreed, though the time and commitment it takes to complete a book can serve as a deterrent.
“It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, and I’m probably at about 10,000 hours now in this memoir,” said Purbis. With a grin, she added, “It takes time, space and a divorce to write a book.”
To some, not writing stands worse than the alternative, however challenging it may be. Canty, who took his first workshop in the 1970s with Richard Hugo and Bill Kittredge, said writing is akin to eating lunch.
“To me, it’s like asking why you eat lunch,” Canty said. “I don’t know, you eat lunch every day. Why do I get up and write? It’s what I do. It’s my life. It’s who I am and I ain’t complaining. It’s my way of organizing the world.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at email@example.com