I could claim to have know him when. But the glory belongs only to author Shawn Vestal. I simply had the good fortune to talk with the recipient of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham literary prize a couple weeks before he was presented the award this fall in New York City.
The $25,000 award, the richest from the PEN American Center, is presented for an outstanding work of debut fiction. Vestal was brought to the podium by acclaimed author Louise Erdrich as he sat among other notable novelists and playwrights. An account of his win and subsequent discussion of the literary climate in Spokane, WA where he is a columnist is related in his home newspaper, The Spokesman-Review.
Vestal's short stories are collected in Godforsaken Idaho. In The Spokesman-Review piece, Gregory Spatz and Sam Ligon of Eastern Washington University's MFA program discuss Vestal's story collection which was written as his master's thesis. They also talk about the wealth of writing talent in Washington state and specifically, Spokane, home to another acclaimed author and former Spokesman-Review journalist, Jess Walter, one of Vestal's pals. They are but two on a long list of writing talent in or from that region of the great Northwest. Check out the Spokesman-Review article for much more name-dropping.
Vestal joins an amazing list of writers. I'm thrilled and lucky that a fellow journalist, Gary Graham, Editor-In-Chief at Spokane and formerly state editor at the Fort Wayne (IN) News-Sentinel links us all together. Graham edited me a hundred years ago when I was a stringer and newly-turned out reporter and journalism grad from Ball State University in Muncie, IN. Today, he edits Vestal in Spokane at the same paper where Walter once worked and where his brother, Ralph Walter, still does. A little drinking water from Spokane, anyone?
BOXED SET -- A novel by Bernie Kohn & Gina M. Smith
An unemployed Chicago sports writer quickly finds himself broke and homeless, but he uses his gift with words and some inspiration from Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac to turn his life around, help his fellow homeless and to get the girl, a perky tech at the local plasma clinic who thinks a boob job will solve everything.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
As a long-time reader and fan of Carl Hiaasen, it was great to finally meet him recently at a book-signing in Bethesda, MD. Hiaasen addressed some 250 fans, many of them kids, at the Bethesda Public Library Oct,. 7.
Like his other adult fans, I've been reading Hiaasen since way back in the Double Whammy days. That one's a personal fave, along with Tourist Season, Skin Tight, Stormy Weather and Lucky You. I was reminded about Strip Tease and its movie during his verrrry dry talk. And I never even knew he was a co-writer of the Michael J. Fox movie Doc Hollywood.
What I do know, which was reinforced this night, is that Hiaasen has a whole new generation of fans coming up, and they're starting early, from the look of things, in about sixth grade. I introduced my own son, now 23, to Hiaasen when Hoot came out. Until this week I didn't even know Hoot was made into a movie, or that it is based on actual events from Hiassen's boyhood. More importantly for this quasi-Parrothead, I didn't know Jimmy Buffett figures prominently in Flush, the book, the movie, the music. Jimmy Buffett as a science teacher? Where have I have been?!
Determined to catch up quickly, I ordered Hiaasen's latest kid's book (Middle Grade to Young Adult) Skink No Surrender. Hiaasen's signing landed on the calendar before I had the chance to read it. The eager, young faces in the audience Tuesday with their sincere questions left no doubt this will be great. How could it not be -- Hiaasen brings back his wacked-out renegade roadkill-eating runaway former Florida governor, now known famously, and only, as Skink. Gotta love it. Hiaasen's advice to a budding junior author in the group who earnestly asked for writing advice? "Don't write about roadkill," he deadpanned.
Hiaasen shared more dry stories from his writing life, including the inspiration for other characters and stories, how he got into children's books, and his sometimes nutty fan following. His discipline to write every day, good or bad, want to or not, comes from his experience as a daily newspaper journalist, he said. Hiassen remains equally well-known for his columns in the Miami Herald.
And stories involving roadkill.