On the road Marathon book tour brings former ‘Tale’ author to region with his latest novel

By Ben Beagle
Daily News Lifestyles Editor
Lifestyles
Aug. 13, 2007

Today it’s Montague, Traverse City and Petorskey, Mich. Tomorrow it’s twobook shops in Ann Arbor, Mich., and another in Cleveland, Ohio. A Thursday morning stop in Erie, Pa., precedes author Howard Frank Mosher ‘s arrival in Western New York.

It’s a marathon – some might say insane – book tour that sees the Irasburg, Vt., author crossing the country to promote his latest novel, On Kingdom Mountain , which introduces more of the colorful characters that inhabit his fictional Northeast Kingdom on the Vermont-Canada border.

The tour has Mosher , the featured author in 2004’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, scheduled to make 129 book store appearances in 93 days. Several days include five stops, and one day later this month has six appearances planned. Some dates are simply drop-bys, where he signs a bookstore’s stock of his books. But most find Mosher interacting with readers – an hour or so for a public book signing, or longer appearances that include an updated version of his slide show, “Where in the world is Kingdom County?”

“If you’re Stephen King or John Grisham, you don’t really need to do a tour like this,” Mosher said, checking in one day last month from Seattle, Wash., where he was making five appearances in two days. “But if your Howard Frank Mosher and looking for each new book to add to your reading base, this is a good way to go.”

One reader at a time

Mosher will have taken only three days off since June 26 when he arrives in Buffalo on Thursday to present a reading and slide show at 7 p.m. in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave.

“It’s amazing what he’s doing,” said Jonathon Welch, owner of Talking Leaves Books, a co-presenter of the program. “He seems to find it really refreshing and fun, and really likes to find readers one by one.”

On Friday, Mosher has a book signing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Lift Bridge Books, 45 Main St., Brockport, before continuing on to afternoon appearances in Skaneateles and Hamilton.

“The purpose is to try and expand my audiences beyond New England and the Northeast,” Mosher said. “It’s been a heck of a trip, and I’m happy to report the weather in California was a fantastic success. It’s a bit of a strange place, but then so can northern Vermont.”

Consider Miss Jane Hubbell Kennison, the latest branch added to Mosher ‘s Kingdom County family tree. Miss Jane’s own story is told in On Kingdom Mountain , his 10th novel.

Place shapes characters

Miss Jane is a bookworm, bird carver, hunter, fisherman – and a rugged Vermont individualist (what others would call an eccentric).

She is also the sole resident and proprietress of Kingdom Mountain, a wild thrust of landscape that runs east-west, instead of north-south, on Vermont’s border with Canada. It is inspired by a mountain a short walk from Mosher ‘s own home.

“I go there everyday. In the morning usually. Hiking or fishing or cross country skiing,” he said. “A few years ago, while skiing, I had a terrible vision of the mountain covered with Wal-Mart, McDonalds and housing tracts.”

On Kingdom Mountain soon followed. Set in 1930, the novel is the story of Miss Jane’s fight to save the mountain from a proposed new highway known as the “Connector.”

On her 50th birthday, a mysterious stunt pilot and weathermaker from Texas named Henry Satterfield crashes his bi-plane on the frozen lake at the foot of Kingdom Mountain. He brings with him a riddle – handed down from his grandfather – containing clues to the whereabouts of $100,000 in stolen Civil War gold that may be hidden on Miss Jane’s mountain.

What follows is part love story, part legal battle and part treasure hunt, based on a local legend.

Mosher ‘s writing has “been compared to Faulkner and Twain, and both are very apt. Particularly, the way his characters shape the place and place shapes the characters,” said Welch, who has been reading Mosher ‘s books since his first novel was published 30 years ago. “And the stories are very funny.”

Con man connects the story

On Kingdom Mountain took Mosher five years to write. It was only in the last year of writing, and after his editor provided advice from an old Mark Twain quote, that Mosher said he got a handle on the story.

“At first it seemed like a collection of stories,” he said. “Then my editor reminded me of something Mark Twain said, that there are only one or two plots to every story: a man and a woman on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.

“It was only when I found the con-man from Texas did I really feel I had enough for a novel. I discovered I needed a character to give Miss Jane someone to talk to,” he said. “If Henry stayed on, it’d give Miss Jane a relationship, and it was something to tie in the story of the treasure.”

The magical character of Miss Jane is based in part on Mosher ‘s own grandmother, several great aunts, his first landlady, who saved her farm during the Depression by making moonshine and later married the revenuer who declined to arrest her; storyteller Margery Moore, who, when accused of robbing the local bank, tricked police into believing the loot was buried at the bottom of a manure pile behind her barn (which she’d wanted moved for 30 years); and his high school sweetheart, Phillis, his wife of 42 years.

Henry, Mosher would eventually determine with some shock, “is probably based a bit on me.”

“I was as obsessed with writing the story as he was of finding the gold,” Mosher said.

And that obsession likely explains the book tour.

‘I owe it to the book …’

Mosher flies in to the larger cities, drives between the smaller ones. Some he’s been to before, others – such as Austin, Houston and San Antonio – are places where he thought the book could do well. He travels with a notebook to write down ideas. And he keeps a written itinerary close by.

“A few times I’ve stopped to get a snack at a highway interchange and on the way back to the car had a moment where I haven’t the faintest idea where I am. I could be in Antarctica,” Mosher said. “Then I realize I need to turn right and get back on the expressway.”

Mosher began working on his schedule in early February and had it finalized by late May, about a month before heading out. “It’s a wonderfully emancipating experience to get away and drive, to get out and see parts of the country,” he said. “Being able to talk about my work, even if its just to 20 or 30 people really helps me feel like I’m a writer.”

Or the six people who saw his slide show in Albuquerque, N.M., but contributed to what Mosher called a fantastic discussion.

Mosher has not been home since the tour began. His wife met him about six weeks ago in Nashville, Tenn., where they visited their daughter and year-old grandson, and again a couple weeks later in Missoula, Mont., where their son lives.

The tour takes him through the end of September, with about a half-dozen dates around New England through the end of the year.

“If it takes me five years to write a book,” Mosher said, “then I think I owe it to the book to go out there and give it five or six months of touring.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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