Pete Fromm’s new novel, “A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do,” is just out on Counterpoint Books. It’s the story of a young man named Taz living with the death of his wife, Marnie, who dies in childbirth. Faced with raising a daughter alone in a house the couple were restoring together, Taz has to find a way to survive. It’s a heartbreaking story, yet finds a way to uplift by showing how communities, and circles of friends, rally around each other in times of deepest trial.
This is Fromm’s first novel since 2014’s “If Not For This.” There was a time when the Missoula writer probably wearied of consistently being referenced as something like “the Northwest’s best kept secret.” After all, the guy has won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award a record five times — three times for novels, one time for a short story collection, and once for a work of nonfiction (1993’s classic “Indian Creek Chronicles,” arguably his most popular book).
And yet he has never won the accolades nationally that other writers from fancier ZIP codes have. Now, though, when the subject is brought up, Fromm can just grin and nod knowingly, because France is onto him, in a big way. Pete Fromm joined the Missoulian for a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the new book, France, and more.
How did you come to be published in France?
I got an email from a French publisher (Gallmeister Editions) early in 2007 that said, “Your book ('Indian Creek') is doing very well over here and I was wondering if you would consider coming over here with your wife to a festival in the fall.” My U.S. publishers had never even told me they sold the rights.
I had no idea. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was my buddies, you know, “Let’s see if we can get Pete to fly to Paris.” So I wrote back something snarky, and he wrote back, “No, this is for real, here’s the cover.” So we went over there for that, and now he’s doing my whole backlist. It’s like walking around and lightning strikes one day, after 20 years.
Do you sell better over there than you do over here?
Oh, yeah. Every event is just standing room only. It’s just insane. The whole book world is different over there. By law, nobody can discount a book more than 5%. So indie stores are big and they’re everywhere — chains don’t have the kind of stranglehold like they do in the U.S. It’s a four-year apprenticeship just to become a bookseller. It’s amazing. Literature is still valued in France in a way it just isn’t over here anymore.
Your characters are so strong, and so real. Like in the new book, these “Missoula guys” that show up, are so real. They’re people we all know, if we’ve been here any length of time. Do any of your friends ever accuse you of putting them to work in your books?
I don’t think enough of my friends read. (Laughs.) No, I never have. But like Taz’s friend in the book, the character Rudy is based on a type of guy I’d often see working on the river, or in the Park Service. In fact my French translator, when she was finished with translating the book, said, “I love this book so much! So much so that, in fact, and this might be awkward, let Rudy know that if he’s interested, I am available!”
You know, in France so much is romanticized about what life out here is like, with all the stereotypes. In this book, I wanted to show what it’s really like to try to make a living. Especially if you’re good at something, it still doesn’t mean you’re dialed into the money machine. It can be hard to make it work.
“If Not For This” dealt with a mother dying from multiple sclerosis. In the new book, a young mother dies in childbirth. You ever worry about people asking, “What does Fromm have against mothers?”
Did you know the U.S. leads developed nations, industrialized nations, for having the most maternal deaths (26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births)? It’s just crazy! But this book started about seven years ago when I read a story in “Glimmer Train” (a literary magazine) about a guy whose wife dies in childbirth. The end of the story is this guy stepping out of the hospital carrying this baby, which is a fine end to that particular story. But I was like, “Holy (expletive), that’s where the story starts!” and I immediately started writing about it. Not based on the original story at all, but the idea of the guy walking into his house and putting the baby carrier down, and wondering what to do now. The stuff in the finished book that precedes that scene came later, because I wanted to make people care about the young woman first, establish their relationship, all that.
How long did it take to write it?
I went like crazy and wrote the first draft in like seven months. I finished it and read through it, and realized there had to be something more than just grief.
Yes! That is what so many writers today seem to fail to realize, is that even in the darkest moments, people find a way to laugh. There’s humor.
Exactly. Otherwise it’s just grief porn. I realized that in that first draft, I was just working with the grief. Then I set it aside and worked on other things for a while. Finally I went back and figured out what it was gonna take to get Taz through it.
And that’s the book.
That’s the book.