Western writers visit Vail Valley | VailDaily.com

Western writers visit Vail Valley

Besse Lynch
Vail Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –To be defined as a Western writer or artist can limit a person, especially when all one seeks to create is greatness in their craft.

“I have either accomplished great writing or not,” said Mark Spragg about strictly being classified a regional writer. “Any time we categorize people, we are diminishing our idea of them. This is especially true in the arts.”

Spragg and his friend and fellow author, Laura Bell, will stop at The Bookworm Thursday evening to promote their new work. Spragg’s 5th book and Bell’s memoir share a common setting – the rugged and unrelenting mountains of northern Wyoming on the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park.

With the talk, set to begin at 6 p.m., Spragg and Bell will talk about their writing process and experience recording the landscape of the place they both call home.

“Reading prose that brings alive a place – in this case one adjacent to our own – is like seeing the history and future of the landscape all at once,” said Nicole Magistro, co-owner of The Bookworm. “Both of these authors have transcribed new definitions of community based on the idea that the land that surrounds us makes us.”

Spragg’s writing captures the essence of contemporary ranch life without the heavy-handed caricatures that have previously defined the region. In “Bone Fire,” his third and latest novel, he returns to the fictional town of Ishawooa, Wyo. Spragg tells a story he said is “more about a realistic sense of community than lauding the actions of some iconoclastic individual.”

His quiet yet forceful style resembles the contrast between carefully chosen characters and their plot – to reconcile modern life in the mountains and plains. Meth labs, rodeos and Lou Gehrig’s disease represent a few of the catalysts Spragg uses to tell a human story, not just a western story.

And while Spragg’s most recent works are fiction, he is also widely recognized for “Where Rivers Change Direction,” a memoir of his childhood growing up on a dude ranch in rural Wyoming.

It was this book that sparked Bell’s desire to set her own story to paper.

“It helped me see that I have a story to tell,” Bell said. “I aspire to writing sentences that have the life and lyric quality that his do.”

Spragg and Bell met at an art opening in Salt Lake city 16 years ago and have been friends and colleagues ever since.

“I read some of Laura’s work not long after we met,” Spragg said. “The poetic ease with which she could translate an experience, dramatic or mundane, into story was stunning. To have a gift with both language and narrative, which she does, is rare.”

Bell began her western life in 1977 when, after graduating college, she traveled from her family home in Kentucky to Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin to begin a journey that lead to sheep herding, driving cattle and becoming comfortable with her own identity. Her memoir, “Claiming Ground,” follows her life from this time through the present as she learns about life’s loves and losses, and what it means for her to be of the west.

“It took me a long time to write it,” Bell said. “I had to grow up to write the book it finally became … I never set out to write a memoir, but what came out was intensely intimate, an underlayer of longing for home and belonging.”

Though both Spragg and Bell are reluctant to qualify themselves as western writers, it seems only natural that they should be able to tour together, if nothing else but as artists who happen to live and write about the same place.

Besse Lynch works at The Bookworm of Edwards. E-mail comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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