Friday, May 16, 2008

Star Struck

I came home with two hardback copies of a book tonight after hearing the author read a very brief scene and ramble very coherently and touchingly about the writing of the entire work. One book is simply signed with the author's autograph, the other with a personal inscription to my grandmother, who for twelve recent years was the mayor of the small Wyoming town in which the author has a home.

"Will you sign the second book to Rose Skinner?" I asked. The slight, freckled, unassuming author, whose good nature and humility reigned even in the fervor (there was a barbecue after the book signing, and children were running everywhere as people lined up, clutching new, blank books), looked perplexed and distant. Pen poised, she asked, "Why does that name sound familiar?" I told her. She nodded, grinned, and signed the book, "For Rose Skinner, who will know this wind." The internationally bestselling author was Alexandra Fuller, and the book is "The Legend of Colton H. Bryant," about a roughneck who was killed on an oil rig in the Jonah field here in Wyoming, just outside the town where Rose lives, just north of where Mom runs a hotel that is often full of boys a lot like Colton, who are also working on the rigs.

This was my first book signing, but I think it differed from most events of this sort in a significant way. Colton's boisterous family, including his parents, siblings, wife, and son, took up several tables at the front of the old wooden mercantile building we use for this sort of thing. They live here. His mom works at the school cafeteria where we take bacteriological samples every few months. Jeff shoes his father's horses. After Alexandra finished reading (and begging us not to ask questions; she was flustered and teary, kept trying to run a hand through hair that was pinned up), they played a slide show of photos of Colton's short life, and the event turned into an impromptu memorial, which was very touching. His small son pointed to a picture of Colton cradling him and exclaimed, "That's me!"

Alexandra was compelled to write the book after reading Colton's obituary in the local paper. She remarked several times (in a charming, cigarette-softened British accent) how dearly she hoped she "got Colton right." She explained how writing the book had changed her ideas about the oil field and energy, about religion, about many things. She affectionately complained about how hard it is to interview a cowboy; Colton's tall, lanky father, Bill, answered all questions "yes" or "no" from beneath his black felt ten gallon hat and never gave her direct instructions on anything, especially directions. She had long, tearful phone conversations with his mother, Kaylee. In fact, as she spoke tonight, she addressed many members of his family by name. They seem quite enamored with her. And why not? Who gets the chance to have their beloved son's tragically short life written and published for all the world to see and know by a famous author, and such a remarkable author, at that?

I loved Alexandra's first book, a gritty, poetic autobiography of her early years, "Don't Let's go to the Dogs Tonight: Tales of an African Childhood." To find her voluntarily transplanted to Wyoming (and she poked a lot of delightful fun at Jackson, where she has another home and, apparently, a psychiatrist) and writing a book about a lifestyle I know something about (and love, despite the fact that it's an ill fit for me right now) is, well, phenomenal. And before I slipped out the door, I admit, I whipped out the camera phone and got a quick shot of the thin, blonde figure behind the table, signing books.


Blogger mister anchovy said...

How is it I knew there would be psychiatrists working in Jackson?

May 23, 2008 at 5:35 AM  

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