‘Satomi’ a story of struggle, hope and the Eagle Valley | VailDaily.com

‘Satomi’ a story of struggle, hope and the Eagle Valley

Kathy Heicher
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Chances are, Salt Creek resident Jim Driver’s first novel, “Satomi,” won’t make the New York Times best seller list.

However, the thoughtful work of fiction about the dashed hopes and dreams of an Olympic-caliber figure skater, and her subsequent life successes, should fare well with local readers.

First of all, it is an entertaining, breezy read. Second, the story is set in this valley, and local book lovers will get a kick out of perusing Driver’s unusual blend of fact and fiction. It’s just plain fun to pick up a book and see the names of local places and characters figuring prominently in the story, ranging from the local librarians to Robby, the pet mountain lion that once made its home on Salt Creek, southeast of Eagle.

The story is fiction mixed with fact, a combination that works well. Although a fledging novelist, Driver has grasped one of the keys to entertaining fiction: He writes about what he knows.

“Satomi” is a story with several threads. The most central story line involves the life of a young Japanese figure skater, Satomi, who has her heart set on Olympic competition. That character is based on a real person, Satomi Uchiyama Stasiak, whose competitive career, like that of the character in Driver’s book, was cut short by an injury.

Driver, a retired air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration, took up figure skating late in his life; and the real Satomi was his teacher for several years. The story line is based on the stories Satomi told him about herself.

“She is the soul and inspiration of the book. She also allowed me to mix fact and fiction in much of her personal and professional life,” says Driver.

In his fiction story, Satomi is at the top of her career and headed to the Pan-Asian games. She falls in love with daring ski racer, Yuji Moto, who she meets at the competition. The contest proves to be pivotal for the young couple. Satomi’s competitive career vanishes when she crashes while performing a triple axle, sustaining serious injuries. Yuji’s star falls when he is caught nipping sake before a big race – a habit that returns to haunt him later in life.

The young couple, broken-hearted over their careers, leave Japan and head to Colorado to seek their fortunes. They land in Vail, where Yuri finds work as a ski instructor; Satomi hires on as a cook at a Japanese restaurant, but skates at Dobson Ice Arena in her free time.

The second story line involves a rancher, Matthew Coates and his wife, Jenny, who live in the west end of the valley on “Soda Creek.” After selling their land to the developers of the proposed Adam’s Rib ski area, the Coates retire and start on a new lifestyle. Matthew, whom Driver modeled after Salt Creek resident John Oleson, took up ice skating. From that point on, the characters’ lives become intertwined.

Figuring prominently into the story is Robby, the Coates’ pet mountain lion. (Oleson did at one time have a pet lion by that name up on Salt Creek.) To tell the key role the lion plays would be to give away the climax of the story. Readers will have to grab the book and take a look for themselves. The patient and careful art of growing bonsai trees also figures in.

It’s a story of hope. The characters have to face some significant personal hurdles. Along the way, various locally recognizable characters pop up in the book, including local realtor Dale Argubright, Dobson Ice Arena assistant manager Amy Reffkin, Manuel and Yolanda Pilas of the Santa Fe Furniture store in Eagle and the Adam’s Rib developers.

Some things shine through in the book: Driver’s interest in figure skating and his ability to connect with friends and neighbors.

Driver’s actually been writing as a hobby for the past 30 years, focusing primarily on short stories. “Satomi” is his first book. He recalls that writing was a pleasure hobby, a break from his work as an air traffic controller.

He estimates he spent just three months writing the novel.

“It almost wrote itself,” he says. Publishing the book was another story. After a year and a half of searching for a publisher, an Atlanta-based publisher, St. Barthelemy Press Ltd., picked up the novel. The publisher does the selling to national shippers, such as Amazon.com, but Driver himself is responsible for the local marketing of the book.

“This starts out as a labor of love … then it turns kind of commercial,” says Driver.

Driver helped design the cover, which features the ridgeline of a Mt. Sopris-like mountain and the ghostly shadows of a figure skater, a mountain lion and a bonsai tree.

The Bookworm of Edwards is selling the book; the Eagle Valley Public Library system has purchased copies for its branch libraries. He’s gotten a good reception from some local shops and from the skating community.

“It will appeal to figure skaters. The reception is gratifying,” says Driver. One interested distributor wants to promote the book as an “inspirational” novel, because of the obstacles the characters are challenged to overcome. The librarians at the Eagle Public library are leaning toward cataloging the novel as young adult fiction.

Regardless, it’s a pleasant story, with a surprising plot twist at the end that local readers will enjoy.

Who knows, maybe they’ll find their own names in the book.

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