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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Longmire author Johnson at Auntie’s tonight

Mystery fans should be interested in an author reading/signing event that will take place at Auntie's Bookstore tonight. Craig Johnson, the Wyoming-based writer of the Sheriff Walt Longmire series, will read from his latest novel, "Dry Bones," at 7.

Johnson's Longmire series revolves around his protagonist, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyo. As explained by the Christian Science Monitor, "Johnson tells of Longmire’s adventures from the sheriff’s perspective. A tough-talking female deputy and a best friend from the Cheyenne Nation, as well as Walt’s plucky daughter, give the stories texture and balance to go with Johnson’s commanding sense of place."

Longmire is featured in a TV series that ran for three season on the A&E cable network. After cancellation, it was picked up by Netflix.

"Dry Bones," Johnson's 12th Longmire mystery, involves the sheriff investigating a murder that involves dinosaurs — dead dinosaurs, I have to add — and greed. As the publisher explains, "When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sherrif Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum—until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond. With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government."

Kirkus Reviews says, "Johnson’s crusty sheriff … remains tough, smart, honest, and capable of entertaining fans with another difficult, dangerous case."

And from the Denver Post: "Johnson, as usual, offers colorful glimpses of Wyoming history and its physical features. Johnson is able to make the landscape itself at least as fascinating as the slightly off-kilter, and sometime murderous, folks that inhabit Walt's universe."

Seats at Auntie's events are sometimes hard to find. It never hurts to arrive early. 

Kirn and Vestal heat up Get Lit! tonight

I'm on page 157 (the beginning of chapter 11) of Walter Kirn's 252-page nonfiction book titled "Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade." I purchased the book long before I knew that Kirn was coming to this year's Get Lit! celebration, and obviously before I knew that he was going to participate in a literary conversation with Spokane-based author/columnist Shawn Vestal.

That conversation, by the way, will take place at 7 tonight at Riverside Place (formerly the Spokane Masonic Temple), 1110 W. Riverside Ave. Tickets are $15.

So far, "Murder Will Out" is fascinating, not just as a look at a murderous imposter but as an example of confessional writing. What's important to Kirn, who lives — according to his book — in Livingston, Mont., is not just his subject but his own experience leading up to his meeting, his getting to know, his gradual distrust of and eventual feelings of betrayal by his subject.

One of my favorite passages, though, has nothing to do with murder. It involves moment that, Kirn concludes, "sent a tremor through my life." It occurs when Kirn believes that he has run over his 1-year-old son, Charlie. Kirn had been sitting in his pickup, talking to a friend, unaware that Charlie had crawled in front of the vehicle. And he became aware of that fact only when his friend called out the boy's name, by which time Kirn had already driven over where the boy had been sitting.

"The truck rolled on, a good ten feet — momentum. I stopped it as time elongated and yawned and I became a speck or cinder drifting in a nauseating gray void. I shifted into Park. I climbed down from the cab. Life had just ended for me, so I was calm. I hurried, because one must, but I was calm. With forty more years to absorb the ghastly image already taking shape in my mind's eye, adrenaline and panic were irrelevant."

I'm tempted to leave things there, and tell you to go pick up a copy to see what happens. But that would be mean. Kirn continues:

"He was sitting upright under the license plate, halfway between the rear tires. My perfect boy. The pickup's jacked-up, four-wheel-drive suspension had allowed the chassis to pass right over him. It made no sense. The overlay of horror — the scene that should have been — persisted in my vision as I reached for him. Angels. Providence. Only they made sense. In the realm of logic and causality, I'd killed my child, but love had vanquished physics and here he was in my arms, against my chest, with nothing but a pink patch on his forehead where the truck's differential had scraped the skin."

The discussion between Kirn and Vestal, no slouch of a writer himself, should be fascinating. It will follow each writer's reading from his own respective work. Click here for ticket information.

Get Lit! treat: Bigfoot’s biographer and friend

As Get Lit! 2015 proceeds, one event after the next continues to offer quality literary content. Of today's events, the 7 p.m. reading/book signing by writers Benjamin Percy and home-grown Sharma Shields should prove satisfying.

Especially for Bigfoot fans.

Little joke there. Spokane-resident Shields is the author of the novel "The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac," as well as the story collection "Favorite Monster." Percy, an Oregon native and resident of Eugene, is the author of the novels "The Dead Lands," "Red Moon" and "The Wilding."

The two will read at Riverside Place (formerly known as the Spokane Masonic Temple), 1110 W. Riverside Ave. Admission is free and open to the public.

For the entire Get Lit! schedule, click here.

Get Lit! tonight with Alexie and Walter

Spokane is justifiably proud of its home-grown literary talent. Writers such as Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter both have roots in the immediate area, Alexie having grown up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit (and attending Reardan High School, Gonzaga University and then Washington State University), Walter having grown up mostly in the Spokane Valley (and attending East Valley High School and Eastern Washington University).

And both have earned national literary fame. Alexie was awarded the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his book "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," while Walter won the 2006 Edgar Award for his novel "Citizen Vince," his novel "The Zero" was a 2006 National Book Award finalist and his novel "Beautiful Ruins" made the New York Times bestseller list.

Area readers will have a rare opportunity to see Alexie and Walter record an edition of their regular podcast, "A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment," at 7 tonight in the Lair Auditorium of Spokane Community College.

The event, which is part of the 2015 Get Lit! literary festival, is free and open to the public. Seating is limited, so get there early.

Get Lit! 2015: 17 years of literary appreciation

Above: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. before his 2004 Get Lit! appearance. Note the cigarette.

Since its inception in 1998, Get Lit! — Spokane's annual literary festival, founded and annually hosted primarily by Eastern Washington University — has attracted an amazing array of talent. From Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to Salman Rushdie, Jane Smiley to Richard Russo. Too many, really, to comfortably list here.

But the celebration, which is what Get Lit! truly is, has never been about individual writers. It's been about the discipline of writing itself, an art that is practiced by everyone from best-selling authors such as Vonnegut, acclaimed Northwest writers such as Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter to students in area schools learning the difference between a comma and a semicolon.

That celebration will continue next week when the 17th-annual version of Get Lit! begins on Monday, April 20, with three different sessions. While the 2015 version of the festival doesn't feature the literary firepower of years past, attendees will have the opportunity to meet, greet and listen to such writers as Alexie, Walter and a number of other notable visiting writers. For a full schedule, click here.

A personal note: In 2004, before Vonnegut's Get Lit! performance at what is now the Bing Crosby Theater (then the Metropolitan Performing Arts Center), I met with the then-81-year-old writer backstage. As a Spokesman-Review staff writer, I had interviewed Vonnegut by phone the week before. And I jumped at the chance to meet him in person.

We met in a small room off the theater's balcony level. A small group of students stood nearby as Vonnegut pulled a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes from his suit coat pocket. "Ya think I can smoke here?" he asked. Feeling friskily familiar — I mean, really, was this Kurt Vonnegut asking me if he could smoke? — I said, "Hey, you're Kurt Vonnegut! You can smoke wherever you want."

And so he lit up. I snapped the photo above. And I got a memory of a lifetime.

Check out cover for Harper Lee’s new novel

The cover art (above) for “Go Set a Watchman,” the recently uncovered sequel to Harper Lee’s iconic “To Kill a Mockingbird” was released today by HarperCollins.

Lee originally wrote the novel in the 1950s about a young woman, Scout Finch, who travels from New York back to her childhood home in Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus. Her editor was more interested in the novel’s flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, which Lee turned into “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The manuscript for “Go Set a Watchman” was long thought to be lost until recently discovered by Lee’s lawyer.

Original "To Kill a Mockingbird" cover art

The cover, designed by Jarrod Taylor in the Harper Art Department at HarperCollins, features an approaching train—Scout’s mode of transport from New York to Maycomb—and a sparsely leafed tree on a blue background. Although set in an entirely different color scheme, the cover is beautifully reminiscent of the cover art for the first printing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960.

The excitement over the sequel’s discovery and publishing has been tempered with accusations of elder abuse and manipulation of Lee, 88, a notoriously reclusive figure whose Pulitzer Prize-winning story remained her only published book for over 50 years. Investigations into the accusations are being explored by the state of Alabama, according to the New York Times.

The book will be available July 14 and is currently available for pre-order through Auntie’s Bookstore, as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Buy some ‘War Bonds’ tonight in Coeur d’Alene

Above: Readers crowded into Auntie's Bookstore on Feb. 22 to hear Cindy Hval read from her nonfiction book "War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation."

When she gave her first reading at Auntie's Bookstore on Feb. 22, author Cindy Hval entertained a standing-room only crowd. That's what the local reaction has been to Hval's nonfiction book "War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation."

So, if you're planning on attending Hval's reading tonight, to be held at 7 at the Coeur d'Alene Library, you might want to get there a bit early. Seating could be a little tight.

What's been the reaction to the book outside the author's personal appearances? Well, the book website Goodreads gives "War Bonds" a 4.7 rating (out of 5). "I'm a sucker for a good love story," a reader named Terry wrote.

Another reader, Beth Bollinger, echoed those sentiments: "I spent the majority of the time with tears in my eyes, imagining this or that. It takes a true storyteller to create that kind of connection. Cindy Hval is that kind of storyteller."

All of which reinforces this comment from a critic writing in Publisher's Weekly: "Hval's journalistic style restrains the potential sentimentality, which won't prevent these glimpses of love in the face of war from winning over romantics everywhere."

Anyway, plan on attending the reading. Buy the book yourself. And as I always preach, read it and make up your own mind. It'd probably be a good idea, though, to keep some hankies handy.

Last chance to earn some limerick gold

Here's a last-minute reminder that our annual Limericks Contest is still going on, but entries close Friday afternoon.

We've received a fair number of adult entries, but we still have room for school-age participants. Just remember the theme: "Once Upon a Time in the Northwest," at topic that could include fun re-telling of classic fairy tales that are set in this area, folk tales, or just general fun and fantasy with a local vibe.

Submit your entry by clicking here, or email your entry to contest@spokane7.com.

Prizes in the general and youth categories include $35 gift certificate for first place, $25 for second place and $15 for third place.

A poet and an artist

The first youth entry in our 2015 Limerick Contest arrived in the mail today. That's right; old-fashioned snail mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. With a "Harry Potter" stamp and everything.

The young poet, Paige, also included a drawing with the limerick (see above image).

You can submit your limerick via mail, email or online form. Winners will receive gift cards to Auntie's Bookstore and be invited to read their limericks at a special St. Patrick's Day event at Auntie's in mid-March. Contest closes March 6, 2015.

Special section will benefit The Modern Theater

On February 22, The Spokesman-Review proudly presents The Envelope, a special 56-page full color tab section featuring smart, insightful commentary and predictions for the 2015 Academy Awards from the Los Angeles Times. Five percent of subscriber proceeds will be donated to The Modern Theater in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene.

Sunday subscribers will automatically receive this section with regular delivery. If you would like to upgrade your subscription to receive this special section, visit Spokesman.com/subscribe. Subscribers who do not wish to receive this section must visit The Envelope Opt-Out by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 18, 2015, or call (509) 459-3800.

And starting at running back, Frannnnz Kafffffka!

If you're still hung over following a distinctly disappointing Super Bowl — and by "hung over" I mean, of course, emotionally — you're not alone.

Sure, I know New England won. And just like Seahawks fans following that improbable win over Green Bay, Patriots fans everywhere — even here in the Northwest — are rejoicing. But, too, everyone has to be wondering: What was with that final play call? I've heard the rationalizations, but none really stick. And everyone, even the Pats, have to be experiencing at least somewhat of a bad taste in their mouths.

Anyway … life goes on. And while checking my email this morning, I discovered a message from my night-dweller wife that put at least a slight smile on my face this dreary, snowy February morning. It's a repeat of a PBS Newshour story from a year ago that lists 14 books that you could read in the time it takes to play a Super Bowl.

Interesting compilation. And while I have read 12 of the 14, I have to admit that — sitting here, still smarting over a mere football game — one of the books seems far more appropriate than any of the others.

Perhaps you'll agree. It's the one by the guy named Kafka.

I want this to be a Louis C.K. kind of day

I just read an email that the comedian Louis C.K. sent out announcing cancellation of his Tuesday night show at New York's Madison Square Garden. It seems a "historic" storm is threatening the Northeast, and he's afraid of the potential harm the tempest may pose to the fans who are coming to see him. "So," he says. "No show."

C.K. is one of my favorite comics. The guy might use profanity a bit too much for some people's tastes, but that's never bothered me (just ask anyone I've ever worked with). What I love is his ability to hit straight at the heart of the human condition, to reveal a common truth about humanity — whether that truth involves narcissism, hypocrisy or outright stupidity — and do so in a self-effacing, humorous manner.

Take this skit. Or this one.

I particularly like the closing line of his email: "Take care of yourself and don't be a jerk to people." I think that's as intimate and honest as you can get. And it's something I try to practice in my own life.

Of course, I fail. Often. The other night at a crowded book reading, the organizer came through counting open seats. When he discovered that two separate chairs in my row were free, one of which was to my immediate right, he politely asked me and my brother — who were sitting on the aisle — to move in. I, a little too abruptly, said, "No." My brother and I had arrived a half hour early, had chosen our seats carefully, wanting to be on the aisle so that we could make an early exit if we wanted (while disturbing as few others as possible). The young guy looked at me curiously, but just proceeded to another row. And I immediately felt bad.

Worse, a couple that was sitting to my right, moved one seat to their right, thereby turning the single separate seat into a double. I turned to them, thanked them, and said, "You've much more accommodating than I am." The woman, without looking at me, said, "I try to be."

So … I wish I could say that I enjoyed the next half-hour's reading. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some part of me did. The young author read well, explained herself well and was poised, open and enthusiastic in her efforts to answer the several questions audience members posed to her. Even the one I asked.

But that was only a small part of me. A much larger part kept reliving the whole experience — the request to switch seats, my refusal, the silent disapproval I felt from the other couple — over and over. I found myself stuck on a loop where I kept thinking that I should have talked about my brother's emotional fragility, about my own inherent sense of claustrophobia, about the irritation I felt at being asked to alter a situation that I had made special effort to set up. And then I chastised myself for being weak, for not having the strength to let the whole thing go, for feeling anger at having to explain myself in the first place.

And here it is, three days later, and I'm still meditating about the whole incident, still unable to let it go.

Until I read that quote from Louis C.K., a guy whose talent rests in the exercise of reminding us that we're all just human, that we make mistakes, and that we just need to be nicer to one another.

So I'm going to go out in public today. I'm going try to take care of myself. And I'm going to do my best to avoid being a jerk to anyone.

That seems likes a human thing to do.

Below: Just a warning, the Louis CK clip embedded below is NSFW.

Sarah Hulse creates a haunting elegy in ‘Black River’

As the father of a young woman who is working as a film editor/producer in New York, I understand the pride a parent feels when his or her offspring does something creative. Especially when that work receives critical acclaim.

That's why I'm so happy for my former Spokesman-Review colleague Gil Hulse. I have some clue as to what he is feeling over the kudos his daughter, Sarah Hulse, is receiving on the publication of her novel — her first — "Black River." The younger Hulse will read from her book at 7 p.m. Friday at Auntie's Bookstore.

Following are some comments about "Black River":

From the Washington Post: "(T)he possibility of solace, if not redemption, hangs tantalizingly close in this tough, honest novel by a surprisingly wise young writer."

From The Guardian: "Hulse believes that grace happens in a look between two people, or a moment of holding back. It’s a powerful elegy to the knowledges we bear and the silences we hold."

From Publisher's Weekly (whose reviewer clearly was thrown off by Hulse's byline "S.M."): "From the bluegrass theme to the Western rural setting, Hulse handles his (sic) story like a pro."

From Kirkus Reviews: "Profound issues addressed with a delicate touch and folded into a strong story populated by wrenchingly human characters: impressive work from a gifted young artist."

So, don't miss this sterling literary debut, a young author's presentation of what is universally being acclaimed as a finely crafted first novel. Oh, and be sure to congratulate her father.

Limerick writers, sharpen your 2015 pens

When I still taught as an adjunct instructor at both Whitworth and Gonzaga universities, I urged students to treat Wikipedia as a mere beginning spot for research. As my wife likes to say, Wikipedia is a tool, not a source.

But even as a tool, it's sometimes questionable. For example, I was looking up the term "limerick" this morning on the Wikipedia site. Why? Because, as we have in the past, Spokane7 is going to hold a Saint Patrick's Day limericks contest. Beginning today, we will be accepting entries in The 2015 Spokesman-Review Limerick Contest through March 6.

Our 2015 theme? “Once upon a Time in the Inland Northwest,” which invites limerick enthusiasts to create original works that recast classic fairy tales, Grimm's Brother stories or traditional folk tales (Bigfoot, anyone?) in traditional limerick form boasting — and this is all-important — a local reference.

Entries can be submitted online at  www.spokane7.com/limericks_2015/, by email to contests@spokane7.com, by mail or drop-off at The Spokesman-Review, 999 W. Riverside, Spokane, WA 99201.

At least three prizes will be given in both adult and youth categories, each including gift certificates provided by Auntie’s Bookstore and The Spokesman-Review. Top entries will be invited to read their submissions at a special Auntie’s St. Patrick’s Day event in mid-March (date to be determined).

So start writing those limericks. But if you go to Wikipedia to see what a limerick is, pay no attention to the line that describes "clean limericks" as a "periodic fad and object of magazine contests, rarely rising above mediocrity."

Oh, Wikipedia, how sadly ye have treated us. Hmmm, maybe there's a limerick there somewhere.

Take in the art of nature Friday at Kendall Yards

Above: Artist Melissa Cole.

Marshall Peterson is a photographer whose larger interest is in promoting arts in Spokane. As such, his latest project involves an art show that will be on exhibit from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Kendall Yards. "Under the Influence of Nature … New Work by Melissa Cole" will be on display at 1206 W. Summit Parkway (Adams Alley).

A native of Oregon, Cole has shown her artwork in galleries from Alaska to Florida. She written more than 30 children's natural history books with her husband, Brandon, a wildlife photographer.

Click here to obtain more information on Cole and her work.

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