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* — Incomplete in the sense that, at various points, I forgot to take pictures. I did manage, however, to make it to Missoula and back safely, which was my prime objective.

Tuesday, April 19, I left Billings for the 345-mile drive to Missoula, where I had a reading scheduled for Fact & Fiction that night. The next morning, I headed back home. In between: visits with friends, road food, inclement weather and alcohol.

Join me, won’t you?

Less than a block from my house in Billings, this was my view. I woke up Tuesday to find my SUV covered in snow.

Forty miles into the trip, I stopped for breakfast in Columbus. Norman Mailer, in Tom Grimes' "Mentor," said "You gotta eat eggs on the road." So I did.

The worst of the weather occurred between Columbus and Big Timber. For a few miles there, the passing lane was covered in snow and ice and the snow was encroaching on my lane. I was afraid I'd have to turn around ...

... but then, after Big Timber, clear roads returned.

In Bozeman, I stopped and visited with my friend Ariana, the new owner of the Country Bookshelf.

I stopped for lunch in Butte (where I met my friend David Abrams) and noticed that I had an ice-encrusted front bumper.

After lunch, I followed David through some hellacious road construction to his beautiful 1920s house in Butte.

While in Butte, I stopped by Books and Books, another wonderful indie bookseller.

Doesn't everybody take a picture of himself in a roadside restroom?

Missoula! Fact & Fiction! Yes!

Wednesday brought a beautiful day for driving home. And so I did, rapidly.

What did I leave out? Lots of stuff: pictures from the reading in Missoula, hosted by Fact & Fiction’s wonderful owner, Barbara Theroux; my reunion with old friend Robert Meyerowitz, the new editor of the Missoula Independent; my kind hosts, Lisa Simon and Jason Neal and their wonderful home in the woods; cats Maynard and BeBe, who tolerated my intrusion. During the best parts of the trip, I put the camera down — which says little for my photojournalism skills but does commend my ability to fully live in the moment. I’ll take that trade.

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Yesterday in Bozeman, I completed the circle on what has been a surreal experience. “Surreal” was how Jamie Ford, the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, described winning the 2009 Montana Book Award, so I’m going to co-opt his word. My book, 600 Hours of Edward, was one of four Honor Books for 2009, and, yes, “surreal” is the word.

I had no idea what to expect from the evening. I’d been told where to show up (Bozeman Public Library, a beautiful place) and when, and that’s about it. (Brief detour: I very nearly messed up the “when.” Angie and I were having dinner with my publisher, Chris Cauble, and his wife, Linda, and at 5:45, I noted that we still had plenty of time, given that the event started at 6:30 and was right across the street. Chris said, “I think it’s 6.” He checked the invitation, and sure enough: 6 o’clock. Angie changed into a dress in the front seat of the Explorer while I drove 100 feet at approximately 85 mph. Good times!)

When Wally McRae (Stick Horses), the first honoree, seemed completely at ease and launched into perfectly tailored remarks, my heart raced. I was wholly unprepared to actually say anything, so I stood there with Ang, trying not to sweat (or retch) and tried to come up with something appropriate for the occasion.

I won’t bore you with the actual remarks. I thanked Ang first and my publisher second, and expressed deep appreciation for the honor (which works, as I’m deeply appreciative). I thanked Jim Thomsen, who’s largely to blame for getting me into this crazy thing. I gave a brief, disjointed synopsis of how the book came to be. It occurs to me now that maybe telling people that I drafted it in 24 days isn’t the wisest thing in the world; it sounds as if I think art is something that can just be tossed off on a whim, which doesn’t reflect my point of view at all. Art comes on its own terms; in the case of 600 Hours of Edward, it came in a one-month torrent. I know how fortunate I am. Believe me.

In what can only be described as one of the themes of my life, it was hours later and miles away that I realized what I should have said. So if you’ll indulge me …

The motorcycle accident I had in July 2008 has become part of the Edward backstory, in large part because I’ve encouraged that. (For proof, see my bio and the latest bit of news to cross the transom.) But in July 2008, I hadn’t given any thought to Edward Stanton, and any dreams I had of being a novelist had been tucked away in the recesses of my brain.

What I was in July 2008 was a broken person, and this was long before the buck jumped into my path at mile marker 37 of Interstate 94. For months, I had been shuffling through my life without much enthusiasm and with a hurt and an anger I could could barely, and not always successfully, keep under the surface. I thanked Angie last night not just because she tolerates my incessant need to write but because she lived with the shell of the person I’d become, and she never lost faith that I would find my way back to a worthwhile path.

The motorcycle crash made me focus on getting better — first, in healing the physical scars, and then in confronting what was going on inside.

In November 2008, Edward came along, and for 24 days, I lived inside his head — an interesting place to be sure, and at that time, far preferable to being inside my own cranium. Writing Edward made me feel useful and gave me a peek at something I wanted to do with the life I had left.

I’m always gratified when people write to me and thank me for breathing life into Edward. That my fictional man, so flawed and so beautiful, has a profound impact on folks just blows my mind. It’s the best validation for writing I can imagine.

And yet, I’m always tempted to correct them. Because from where I sit, the truth of the matter is that Edward breathed life into me.

Quick takeaways from Bozeman …

  • It was so nice to see people who are becoming such good friends: Mark Miller (who introduced me), Barbara Theroux, Mary Jane DiSanti, Ariana Paliobagis, Michelanne Shields, Jill Munson. It was, in every sense of the word, a wonderful evening.
  • Jamie Ford and his lovely wife, Leesha, are such nice folks. Jamie wrote a beautiful book, and he’s every bit as graceful as his words. I joked with him afterward that we should start a literary blood feud, but if you were to meet him, you’d know how truly preposterous such a notion is.
  • Librarians can party.
  • Finally, a meteorological note (Edward would approve). Here’s Montana in spring: We arrived in Bozeman just after 3 p.m., and the sun was shining, people were walking around with sunglasses, Angie shed her top layer because it was getting warm. Not a half-hour later, a snowstorm plowed into town, with huge flakes flying sideways and swirling. By the time we got to the car, I had to sweep it clear. We arrived at the restaurant positively drenched. Hours later, as we left town, it looked like a winter wonderland.

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