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Published on Friday, June 29, 2012.

An Interview

with Mark Mitten

 

Mark Mitten has a new novel Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave that is available in two parts on Amazon and will be published through Sunbury Press in late 2012. He granted an interview to The Western Online.


The Western Online: Can you describe your story for our readers?

    Mark Mitten: It is 1887. Snow is falling in the high country of Colorado. Bill Ewing led a bank heist in the small mountain town of Kinsey City--but just woke up tied to the back of a mule. Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave is an epic novel chronicling the bank thieves and the posse that takes after them, the cowhands of the B-Cross-C, and the unexpected turns of life which bring them all together.

    The novel itself has an ensemble of main characters. Bill Ewing sits in a dank courthouse cell, waiting for his gang to break him out of the Grand Lake courthouse. Deputy Sheriff Griff Allen walks across the quiet Sunday street with a hot tin plate full of chili and applesauce. He thinks he's just bringing feed to a prisoner. Everything's going to change, though. Miles away, Casey Pruitt and LG Pendleton are taking a herd of Polangus and Durham cattle down to the Denver stockyards--and it's a matter of destiny and chance that brings all of these people together at the same place and time.

TWO: How is your story one that would interest the readers of The Western Online?

    Mark: Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave is a historical fiction western. It is set in 1887 Colorado, following one of the worst winters to ever hit the American West. The novel was three years in the making and I relied heavily on historical research. I wanted to make sure the events and settings were correct, and weave in historical characters into the storyline. It was also important to make sure the "voice" of the characters was authentic, and I researched first-person accounts from actual cowboys during the period for inspiration.

   

TWO: What motivates the protagonist in your story? What is he trying to prove?

    Mark: Life does not always go the way we think it should. At the center of this story is heartache, changing times, and perseverance. There are several characters we should talk about. In my mind, it's good to realize there are three main groups of people the story revolves around. First, there is Bill and his gang--who have just robbed a bank as the narrative opens. Second, there is Deputy Griff Allen and the posse he calls up in Grand Lake to chase down these thieves after the jail break goes badly. Third, you will meet the cowhands of the B-Cross-C. The "B-Cross" is a modest cattle operation with a high summer pasture in the Colorado Rockies.

    It isn't easy to single out one central protagonist, this is an ensemble cast of characters, but one to start with is Casey Pruitt. He is one of the top hands working for the B-Cross. His life is thrown off course the day they take the herd down Lefthand Canyon--and run straight into Bill Ewing. Casey is wounded and left for dead, the herd is scattered, and Casey is left wondering how to carry on after such a tragedy. Elsewhere, I've written this as part of the book description and it really hits home with Casey:

    "Following the Great Die-Up, the harshest winter to ever hit the West, LG Pendleton and Casey Pruitt lead a mixed herd of Polangus and Durham cattle down the stage road in Lefthand Canyon. Their way of life is fading with the changing times. Fences cross what once was open range, locomotives are eliminating the trail drive, and both Casey and LG must learn to change with it - or fade away themselves. At once both personal and immutable, Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave is a sweeping tale of randomness and destiny, reminding us of the power of the human spirit in the face of adversity."

TWO: How would you define the term "Western" and what does it mean to you?

    Mark: To me, "western" is a word that speaks about the authentic working cowboy. While this typically points toward that short lived and romanticized "golden era," it also includes the contemporary subculture. There are people out there who listen to Ian Tyson, pronounces chaps "shaps," and know what Bute and Banamine are for.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

    Mark: I've worked at several therapeutic horseback riding centers this past decade. And worked as an assistant for an equine vet, too. I've always been more of a "mountain man" than a "cowboy," until I got married and my wife drew me into the horse world. Now I've got a foot in both worlds. Perhaps that's why I've written a Colorado western--set in the mountains. Most westerns you read or watch are set in the desert or prairie. So I've brought these two worlds together in Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave. Another reason is that "identity" is very important to me. We all need to know who we are. That's one of things I admire about people in the western subculture.

TWO:What writers have influenced you the most??

    Mark: I've always been a big reader, and enjoy books of different genres. For the western genre, Larry McMurtry is my biggest influence. Of course, Lonesome Dove is iconic (although I enjoyed Comanche Moon and Streets of Laredo even more). I've also read many of his other books, fiction and nonfiction and he certainly has a way of bringing characters to life and you end up liking them. Not everything he's written is good, but there are many amazing stories in his repertoire. Stephen Lawhead has written some great historical fiction set in Great Britain, and has been another influence. Jon Krakauer is another compelling writer. If you find yourself reading and losing yourself in the story, that's good storytelling.

TWO: What is your favorite Western, either novel or movie? Why?

    Mark: Novel: Comanche Moon. Movie: Legends of the Fall. Comanche Moon was the last book written (and the second chronologically) in the Lonesome Dove tetraology. By then, McMurtry clearly has gotten to know his own characters very well and brings their backstories to a very meaningful conclusion. There is always a sentence here and there that hits me with such impact that I have to dogear the page and reread it later. If you haven't seen Legends of the Fall, go rent it.

TWO:The Western has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent times and is returning to both the box office and television. Why do you think that is?

    Mark: I think it's because people are sick of too much commercialism in life. Everything is just low-quality selling points, and so overly redundant as to berate the senses with banality. The western is a direct affront to that. It is a tale of authenticity and identity. In this internet-fueled world of way too much information, 99% of which is trivial, we are paying a price--and most people probably don't even realize it yet, or don't know how to put it in words. Ian Tyson has a song called Lost Herd, give it a listen. I'm finally at a point in life where I am basically living "off the grid." No internet, no TV reception, no cell phone (I use my wife's for calls, or use a throw-away pay-cell for road trips.) I can't tell you how nice it is not to see Charlie Sheen's syndicated junk show or Entertainment Tonight anymore. This may be just a life phase, but for now it's everything I need. And I suspect more people might benefit from getting off Facebook and Twitter, off of television--at least for a short chapter in their lives. And pick up a book. I happen to know of one you can read...

TWO:What are you plans for the future? Are you working on a sequel?

    Mark: Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave has been picked up by Sunbury Press (Camp Hill, PA) and will be published in the fourth quarter of 2012. (Currently, it is on Amazon as an e-book which anyone can download on their computer or Kindle). It will be available as a paperback through Amazon, as well as being available on all the e-book readers (Kindle, Nook, etc.). This is big news for a "new" author like me. And yes, I will be working on a sequel in the near future. If you look on Kindle right now, you will find the novel separated into two parts. The book has about 110,000 words, and I thought I would try splitting it for Kindle readers. But once it's published with Sunbury, both parts will be brought back into one volume.

TWO:Is there anything else you'd like to add?

    Mark: Be sure to buy a copy of Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave. It is on Kindle now, and will be published in late 2012 by Sunbury Press. It'll be on paperback through Amazon, so please buy a copy there or through SunburyPress.com. I appreciate you all at The Western Online, giving me a chance to connect with the people who will most appreciate a book like mine. Many thanks, and much appreciated!!

 

    Mark Mitten is an author, singer-songwriter, and independent film actor. He lives in Penrose, Colorado. Over the years, Mark has worked as a facility manager at several therapeutic horseback riding centers and as an assistant for an equine veterinarian. In addition to art, he is an experienced mountain climber and has climbed almost all of Colorado's fourteen-thousand foot peaks. Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave is his first novel and will be published through Sunbury Press in late 2012. For more information and the latest updates, visit his official website (www.MarkMitten.us).

 

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