I spent Thursday and Friday (and a sliver of Saturday) in Helena, Montana, for the Helena Bookfest. Among the highlights:

* Hearing Alan Weltzien’s lecture on Thomas Savage, author of The Pass (1944). Despite having written 13 novels, Savage (who died in 2003) has largely been forgotten among readers of literature of the West. He gets scant mention in anthologies and never garnered the attention that his talent deserved. That said, some prominent folks are banging the drum for him, Weltzien said. Among them are Annie Proulx, Thomas McGuane (who considers Savage a top-tier talent, right below Willa Cather) and the Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley. Add to that group Weltzien himself, an English professor at Montana Western and the foremost Savage scholar. The next day, Weltzien, Montana State University Billings professor Sue Hart and Karl Olson of the Missoula Public Library held forth in a panel discussion on Savage and his wife, Elizabeth (with nine under-celebrated novels to her credit). It was a privilege to learn so much about this fine author, and I rushed out of that session and purchased The Pass (recently re-released by Riverbend Publishing and the Drumlummon Institute).

* Attending a panel discussion on Montana women in history. Mary Murphy, a professor at Montana State University, and Sarah Carter, editor of the recently released Montana Women Homesteaders, discussed the prominent role women played in shaping the settlement of this land. Of particular interest was Carter’s account of her research into single women (widowed or otherwise) who successfully homesteaded in this state in the early decades of the last century. She unearthed some amazing stories of persistence and strength. After that session, my mother — my companion for the weekend — rushed right out and bought her book.

* Finally meeting, face to face, the fabulous Carol Buchanan, author of God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. She has become a good friend and trusted sounding board through the wonders of the Web, and I was pleased to finally put a voice to the face and the words. She’s as fine a person as I knew she would be.

* Last (in fact, it was first) but not least, meeting some of the folks at Riverbend Publishing, the publisher of my novel, 600 Hours of Edward. We’re just weeks away from launching it. It’s going to be fun.

More on that soon …

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