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'Winter Range' leads to a
summer of writing
Up Front/Commentary: A.L. ALFORD JR,
Lewiston Morning Tribune editor and publisher.
It's a legitimate question for noted author Claire Davis.
What are you doing in summer 2002, 22 months after release of your
successful first novel, Montana-based "Winter Range"? In other words, how is
novel No. 2 coming along?
Davis, 53, a Lewis-Clark State College English professor, is as succinct and
well spoken in person as she is in print.
In the summer non-teaching months, when not traveling or lecturing, she's
busy with two pursuits.
First, it allows the opportunity not present during the academic school
year. It's possible to write five days a week, five to six hours a day.
That's pretty much been the summer. Second, she fits in time for her hobby,
her horse, riding and jumping.
It also allows time for continued healing of the broken hip from summer
2001, suffered during one of her two passions. It wasn't while writing, of
course, but during riding, when a jump resulted in falling and hitting hard
dirt. But she's back at the jumping, perhaps smaller jumps and over softer
"It's odd," she said. Her doctor correctly advised that the hip would heal
because she's young. If it had been pregnancy, instead, the doctor would
have advised that she's old, not young. She figures it's an incongruity.
"Winter Range," now in its second hardback printing, had positive reviews
following its release in September 2000. There were whirlwind tours of major
U.S. cities by the author. Last summer, after paperback release, Davis
toured again, including France, from Brittany to Paris.
Also a year ago, the book was published in hardback form in Germany, and
that provided a twist.
German, Davis explains, does not have a word for "range." So the language
problem resulted in changing the novel's name from "Winter Range" to "Snow
on Montana." Since the European tour, Davis has been "behind a desk, writing
Writing novel No. 2 started in set-aside times, spare as that can be, right
after the 2000 release of "Winter Range." Some 200 pages have been written,
meaning that some 120 pages remain. Her agent wants the draft by September,
a tight deadline.
The novel is Idaho based, even Lewiston based, and Hells Canyon is part of
it, too. (Neighboring Clarkston, on the other hand, was the subject in her
short story, "Labors of the Heart," first published by Ploughshares, a
literary magazine at Emerson College in Boston, then in "The Best American
Short Stories" of 2001, in the annual Best American Series.)
A collection of essays, including "Labors," will likely see publication
before her second novel. It's now in her New York agent's hands.
An agent, Davis explains, is essential in book publishing today. Her New
York agent, a woman, is aware of the subtleties of today's readers, and
she's Davis' second agent. The first, frankly, held her first novel for two
years and then turned it down. The second agent liked it, saw possibilities
and in three days had a bidding war between three publishers. The result was
a $125,000 up front payment, from Picador Press for the North American
rights, substantially more than the $10,000 to $25,000 for most successful
Davis finds time for writing essays during her academic year, between class
lectures and grading papers. Time doesn't allow the blocks of time required
for a novel. Her outlet for short stories has been literary magazines,
including Ploughshares, Southern Review (Louisiana State University),
Shenandoah (Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.) and Gettysburg
Review (Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, and her award of a coveted
Pushcart Prize for short fiction).
A passion for writing is clearly Davis' No. 1 priority.
"I want to write stories that first are well written and elegant, that you
can't put down," Davis says. She's not an Ernest Hemmingway worksmith, which
in my mind is standing for hours, punching away on a portable typewriter.
Rather, she sits at a desk and uses a computer. Personal computers, she
says, have made writing more competitive, because authors can easily
manipulate and improve their writing, eliminating laborious re-typing.
And we agree: Many today think they have the ideas and the talent to write
the great American novel. But we don't. There's more hard work than meets
the eye. Hours and hours and hours. Dedication. Even luck.
Is Lewiston a good place for an author? Yes. "It's a great place to live, a
great place to work, a great community of writers." Her college, even
devastating as it is today with financial cutbacks and a trimmed staff, is
encouraging and cooperating.
But back to her second passion, riding. After her first job, in her early
20s in Milwaukee, her childhood dream was accomplished, purchasing a
Tennessee Walker. Later, after being a bookkeeper at AT&T's Wisconsin Bell,
would come her undergraduate degree at Washington's Evergreen College and
then her master's at the University of Montana.
Now, her horse is a moderate-sized half Connemara, indigenous to the Irish
Isles, and half Arab, 15 hands tall. She and horse are learning dressage, to
trail ride, take jumps and "have a great time." The horse is boarded at
Tammany Creek's Lucky Acres. Riding is frequently at Hells Gate State Park
and Lewiston Roundup Park, or on wheels throughout the region, from Deary to
Waha, and with "a great community of women riders."
The name? As a child, her dream horse would be either Scout or Star. Davis
stayed honest to her dream. This horse has no star.
So it's Scout.
Alford may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.