By Ben Beagle, Daily News Lifestyles Editor
Local News:March 30, 2004
GAINESVILLE — Author Howard Frank Mosher shared the people and places that inspired Northern Borders through a series of slide programs as the second “A Tale for Three Counties” wrapped up with weekend visits to Wyoming County.
The Saturday programs, a morning session in Arcade and an afternoon session at Letchworth Central School, were the final events in the community reading project that had people reading his book then discussing it with others.
“I thought it was a very fine book,” said Ernie Lawrence of Perry, one of about 60 people who attended the Letchworth program. “Howard Mosher tells a good story.”
Lawrence said he particularly enjoyed reading about the relationship between Austen’s grandparents, who were known for their constant arguing.
“But underneath it all, I think, there was a sense of affection,” Lawrence said. “And that affection was displayed by the grandfather and the extraordinary arrangements he made after his wife’s death.”
The story Mosher weaved on Saturday — and at visits in Medina on Friday and Batavia on Thursday — detailed what he called a mysterious writing process. For Mosher, the inspiration for Northern Borders goes back to summers spent on his grandparents’ farm near Syracuse, yet the story remains deeply-rooted in Vermont.
“The novel comes as much from here,” he said, pointing to his heart, “as it does from here,” he said, putting a finger on his temple.
Northern Borders is a collection of stories told by Austen Kittredge III about his childhood growing up on his grandparents’ farm in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom.
“I felt that I was a witness through the entire book,” said Sue Hengelsberg of Perry, who was surprised to learn that Mosher first wrote his novel as short stories.
“I didn’t realize that it was written as separate stories when I began reading. They were woven together very well,” she said, noting her favorite was “Hannibal Rex,” the story of the old elephant Austen’s grandfather rescued from the traveling fair.
Mosher’s slide show revealed an area that is still somewhat rugged.
“It’s just remote enough, just isolated from civilization enough that there are a lot of stories of a lot of people with wonderful stories that no one have told,” said Mosher, who lives in Irasburg, Vt., a short distance from the Canadian border. The author, a Catskill native, settled in the Northeast Kingdom in the mid-1960s.
Among the characters he talked about was Marjorie Moore, the model for Austen’s maybe-maybe not bank robbing Aunt Liz.
“She’s a great friend and a great inspiration to my writing,” Mosher said of Moore, who is in her 80s.
Mosher told a story about how Moore, who had a reputation as being extremely honest, led police to believe that she had robbed the local bank. Moore further suggested that police might find the $30,000 at the bottom of a manure pile on her farm that Moore had wanted moved for years.
“Needless to say, the police moved it and they didn’t find the money,” Mosher said.
Some years later, Mosher said, the real bank robber confessed.
The 30-minute slide program was followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session. Mosher talked about his writing schedule — often working on a book in the morning and another in the afternoon — and upcoming projects.
Mosher also addressed questions about the ending of Northern Borders, which some found to be stretching an otherwise realistic story. Austen and his grandfather endure incredibly violent storms and extreme conditions during a journey through Labrador, even seeing mirages. It was a story that Mosher said he agonized over, and acknowledged that he is still not sure he likes.
“You get to a certain point with a novel and say, ‘Gee, I wish this was up to the level of Hemingway or Faulkner,’ ” Mosher said. “But you have to ask yourself, is it good Howard Frank Mosher?”
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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation