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At a Festival of the Book panel Saturday, Peter Mountford said that after he quit his day job in his 20s, he decided he was going to write a book.

“Then I was a waiter for eight years,” he said.

Mountford, author of the recently released “The Dismal Science,” participated in a new-fiction panel that was part of the 15th annual festival in Missoula. When he finally did show a book he had written to a literary agent, they liked the way he wrote, but said he had forgotten the “small detail” of including a plot.

K.M. Cholewa said her creative writing habit started early in school, from penning satire in the sixth grade to completing an assignment to write a “how-to essay” with a paper about making out in a Camaro.

It wasn’t until she was 40 years old that she started work on her novel, which eventually was released this year as “Shaking out the Dead.”

Saturday marked the final day of the Festival of the Book, and the final year the festival will be organized by Humanities Montana. The festival is expected to return next year under a new organization, said Kim Anderson, associate director for programs at Humanities Montana.

Gwen Florio, another member of the new-fiction panel whose recent novel “Dakota” centers on the Bakken oil fields, said she made a conscious effort not to learn too much about specifics when first writing her story. After she finished, the veteran journalist traveled to the region in order to be able to correctly capture the small details.

Keith McCafferty turned a career as a magazine writer into publishing full-length novels, most recently “Dead Man’s Fancy.”

He said one piece of advice he received from a friend was that most of the great best-sellers are smaller human stories set against larger backdrops, such as “Gone with the Wind.”

“If you have great characters, you don’t need to have a story,” he said.


In the center of the atrium at the Holiday Inn Downtown, where Saturday’s events were held, a temporary bookstore featuring the latest releases from authors at the festival dominated the floor.

Behind the store, a line of readers met authors and had them autograph their work. In the lobby, a paper towel dispenser was repurposed as a “Poetry Dispenser,” distributing pink pieces of paper with a short set of stanzas printed on them.

Brenda Day came from Butte with three friends to attend the festival. Day, a writing instructor, said she hoped to hear from authors who focused on memoir writing.

After hearing author Elissa Washuta read from “My Body is a Book of Rules,” she bought a copy in the bookstore.

“I was sitting there listening to her and thought, ‘I just have to have this,’ ” Day said. “I promised myself I would only buy two books. And I have bought two so far. But I think I want one more.”

Another panel discussion on Western novels included a question from the audience about the way the publishing world has changed. Two first-time authors, Carrie La Seur and Malcolm Brooks, split from the other panel members, who each have published several books.

La Seur and Brooks said their novels, “The Home Place” and “Painted Horses,” respectively, have received an unusually large amount of support from their publishers, which they said was out of the ordinary for new writers.

“It’s been a blast, but I think it’s also really a stroke of luck,” Brooks said.

David Allan Cates said he’s worked with someone new on each book, from big-name publishers to smaller operations like Bozeman’s Bangtail Press, which released his latest novel. The difference now is that instead of big advances, he’s receiving more from each sale.

As for the big publishers, he said they are in the market only for “home runs,” with smaller publishers filling in the gaps.

“It’s more like a vice than a career,” Cates said of writing.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.