Lisa Schlichtman

Photo by John F. Russell

Lisa Schlichtman

Discovering Steamboat: For the love of words

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— For a book lover like me, getting a ticket to attend this year’s Literary Sojourn was like landing a backstage pass to a Rolling Stones concert. Held last weekend at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and sponsored by Bud Werner Memorial Library, the sold-out event featured Andre Dubus III as master of ceremonies as well as nationally recognized and critically acclaimed best-selling authors Jess Walter, Jennifer Haigh, Ron Rash, Emma Donoghue and Augusten Burroughs.

Exploring Steamboat

Lisa Schlichtman's "Exploring Steamboat" column appears weekly in the Steamboat Today.

Find more columns by Schlichtman here.

Each author addressed the packed room of bibliophiles, speaking about the intricacies of their writing routines and offering glimpses into how they create their compelling characters and intriguing story lines. All of the writers are awe-inspiring in their talent for storytelling and word craft, but two of the authors, Haigh and Walter, are among my favorites, and the messages they shared have stayed with me.

Haigh, whose books include “Mrs. Kimble” and “Baker Towers,” was soft-spoken and thoughtful in discussing her writing.

“I’m an introvert, and I spend a lot of time sitting alone in a room,” Haigh explained. “What makes (speaking in front of an audience) possible is I love readers.” She spoke about modeling her literary Bakerton after the town in Pennsylvania where she grew up that no longer exists. “It’s a place that breaks my heart,” Haigh said. “This is the book I always knew I would write.”

Haigh described writing as the “really good part” of her life. “My happiest days are the days I spend playing with language,” Haigh said. “I write stories to have an excuse to write sentences. Writing is the organizing factor of my life. We write because we must.”

Walter followed Haigh to the speaker’s podium, and his presentation was razor sharp and extremely humorous. Walter intrigues me as a writer because he began his career as a newspaper journalist. When I moved to Steamboat in mid-July, I was just finishing up Walter’s latest novel, “Beautiful Ruins,” so I was thrilled to discover Walter would be making an appearance at Literary Sojourn.

Walter spoke about mailing out numerous manuscripts early in his career and how the rejections returned to him like “literary boomerangs.” He shared the story of Kurt Vonnegut becoming his mentor and how the author’s “small bit of kindness” inspired Walter to continue down the path of becoming a novelist.

Walter also talked about the impact working for a newspaper had on him as a writer. “My sense of curiosity and empathy came out of being a journalist,” Walter shared. “I learned to follow my interests down the rabbit holes of curiosity.”

And throughout the afternoon, Dubus peppered the presentations with his own insights on writing and writers, and as I looked back on the notes I took that day, there was one sentence of Dubus' that I starred. He simply said, “Writing kind of saved my life.”

Those words resonated with me because that’s the way I feel about writing. I didn’t have the rough childhood that Dubus described, but I do know the love for words I developed at a very early age shaped my life in deep and powerful ways.

As a child, books transported me to magical places — taking me down a rabbit hole, through the gates of Oz and into a secret garden. Soon, I was putting my own words onto paper, emulating my favorite authors’ styles at first and eventually discovering my own, singular voice.

In time, I realized it was essential that my chosen profession center around my love for words, so I embarked on a career in journalism. I often give voice to other people’s stories, and it’s an honor, a privilege and a responsibility. I love what I do, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if it didn’t revolve around my passion for words and writing.

And in reading the works of authors like Dubus, Walter, Haigh, Rash, Donoghue and Burroughs, I rediscover the beauty of words perfectly put together to create characters and stories that leap to life in my imagination and have the power to stay in my memory long after the final page is turned.

Literary Sojourn was nothing short of an inspirational experience for me, as I’m sure it was for the 500 other readers and book lovers who also attended the event. And how awesome is it that a gathering that centers around books and authors sold out in 13 minutes. I can’t wait to discover the lineup of authors for next year’s Literary Sojourn event, which is scheduled for Sept. 20, and I know my new friends at Bud Werner Memorial Library won’t disappoint.

I invite readers to help me discover more about Steamboat and Routt County by suggesting places you’d like me to visit, people you want me to meet or activities you’d like me to try. You can reach me at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or 970-871-4221.

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