I was born near Philadelphia in 1970 but my parents headed west before a full year had passed, caught up in the classic American tradition of hitting the trail after a different destiny. I latched on to the trappings of that myth right off the bat--according to my mother, I stretched out the springs on two hobby-horses before I was three, galloping along in front of the stereo speakers to "Rocky Raccoon," or "Riders on the Storm," or whatever soundtrack she thought might fit. I grew up mainly in Northern California in a fairly rural part of the Sierra foothills, a place fairly littered with the old artifacts of long-lost Indian tribes and the 1849 Gold Rush. My brothers and I used to find Czech trade beads on a property we rode horses on, and old prospecting implements and the remnants of mining camps everywhere. Forgotten stone chimneys, rusting pickaxes half-buried in the ground. Most kids' interest ran from indifferent to momentarily piqued, but I saw the stuff in my dreams, would spend hours in a 19th century graveyard just to wonder who these people were. I read a lot from an early age and by junior high had diverse interests, from paperback Westerns to English mysteries to blockbuster historical novels. Then my eighth grade English teacher, Marcia Callenberger, gave me a novel that changed my life, because it made me want to be a writer. "Lonesome Dove" was unlike anything I'd ever read, a hilarious, character-driven epic that followed no formula but struck me in the heart like nothing before. I knocked around the West in my early twenties, learning carpentry along the way to support myself and attempting college in fits and starts. I still read like crazy, discovering Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje, knowing I wanted to be a writer but not quite knowing what sort of writer I wanted to be, like a guitarist with a schizoid devotion to both Segovia and Angus Young. Thomas McGuane struck a chord with me because he was clearly connected to so many things I myself had a love for--horses and fly-fishing, bird shooting and the West and above all stylish writing. I finally landed in Missoula, Montana in my mid-twenties, tackling an English degree in earnest and finding my way to literary parties and events through my then-girlfriend, a poet and MFA candidate. I hunted a lot and rode horses when I could, wrote a couple of novels I hated and began to publish essays and short stories in magazines, then landed a job as a writer and consultant for an outdoor television company. Eventually I wound up in front of the camera myself, hosting a hunting-oriented target competition called "The Shooters" and all the while concocting this novel in my head, this huge, sprawling book that would somehow connect the dots of everything I'd ever been consumed by, archaeology and the West, Basques and Indians and the Lascaux cave, hunting and horses and the inevitable pros and cons of progress. Six years later, I named it "Painted Horses."Read more Read less
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