“Monument Road” author Charlie Quimby returns to his hometown of Glenwood Springs for a book signing from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 29,at the Book Train, 723 Grand Ave. He will sign copies of his debut novel. April Clark caught up with Quimby as he made his way to Glenwood for Saturday’s book signing.
Describe the “Monument Road” plot and how you developed it.
Colorado rancher Leonard Self sets out to grant his wife’s final wish by scattering her ashes off Artist’s Point. He also has the clear intention of leaping after her. During his drive you learn about their life together — childless, hardworking and visited by catastrophe but also very loving. Through it all, Inetta has been sure of her faith while Len has done without any.
The story drops back in time and picks up another plot thread concerning a teenage Helen, who desperately wants the part of St. Joan in her high-school play. Her research into ecstatic belief leads her to an evangelical church, where she meets Neulan, an awkward boy with plenty of faith and “a voice that could part the Red Sea.”
These two threads entwine in surprising ways as Leonard completes his drive to the top of Monument Road. Rather than starting with a plot, I began writing about a man making a drive to the place where he intended to take his life. The story and characters evolved from that situation, the landscape and culture of the mountain west, and my reflections on ways people come to terms with death.
Tell us about your writing process, i.e., how long did it take to write and be published?
I worked on the novel for about three years and spent roughly another year finding a publisher, making further revisions and starting a new novel so I didn’t go crazy from uncertainty. The full story is more painful and circuitous than that, but the outcome was better than I’d hoped when I started. From the time Torrey House Press accepted the book, it took almost another year to reach print, build support for the book in bookstores and launch it across the country.
How have your experiences living in Colorado influenced this book?
Although readers tell me this novel is true to their experiences in other parts of the country, it never would’ve been written if I’d left the state for college and stayed in Minnesota. Coming back to live here part time reawakened the western Colorado in my bones, and it helped me see afresh the places where I grew up — through the eyes of a mature writer who’s had a good life.
Being raised in Glenwood was also important to establishing a tone for Leonard’s life in Glade Park. I was able here to start working very young and became exposed to adults other than family, to ranching and a semi-rural life, to the way relationships work in smaller towns. While having strong women in the family isn’t a Colorado experience specifically, my great-grandmother homesteaded near Parshall as a single mother. My grandmother was widowed young and supported her family taking in laundry and doing bookkeeping for Dodge dealers in Rifle and Grand Junction. My mother, too, was a remarkable woman, and I tried to reflect their pioneering spirit in my modern women characters.
What authors from the past and present have inspired your writing?
As a young reader, I was influenced by Jack London’s tales about the thin line between civilization and survival. Currently, I’m drawn to authors like Louise Erdrich, Annie Proulx, Kent Meyers, David Rhodes and Kent Haruf who are writing about people and places on the fringes of mainstream America. We have plenty of novels about New York and college campuses. I don’t think we’ve used up the mountain West as a locale for stories about how the American Dream doesn’t work out for everyone.
What type of feedback do you receive from readers about “Monument Road?”
Readers tell me they especially like the character development and description of landscape. They’ll frequently mention a part of the book that made them cry or an incident that relates to their own lives. The questions tend to center on “Why did you do this?” — let a character die, or suddenly shift gears in the story, or write scenes where animals come to ruin.
What do you enjoy most about “Monument Road” being featured in book clubs?
I wrote this book for the type of readers who belong to a book club — widely read, social, curious and serious about good writing. Being selected is a sign I succeeded in reaching them. I’ve participated in more than a dozen club discussions so far and have many more lined up. It’s fun and flattering to be brought into this circle of friends who often have been together for years and who have given my work close attention. I always get something from each discussion.
Which cities and towns around Colorado have you enjoyed visiting for book signings?
Well, first, I’m delighted about coming here, since Glenwood Springs is where I grew up — six kids in a little house on Park Drive. The neighborhood was called the Golf Course, because the original polo grounds and golf course had been built over for post-WWII housing. See change in this valley made me appreciate the enduring beauty of some places and the impermanence of others.
I recently had a great time in Salida where the bookstore owner does a monthly community celebration called Dies Librorum that combines authors, music and home-cooked food. Salt Lake City has given me a great reception, and of course, Grand Junction, where the story is set, has greeted me with open arms.
I’m looking forward to a reading at BookBar in Denver, where book buyers will get a free drink with every purchase. I love going wherever independent bookstores remain an important community institution.
What have been some of your best memories garnered from being on the road to meet fans?
Some of the great experiences come from surprise reconnections. At one reading, three co-workers I hadn’t seen in decades showed up together. Here in Colorado, I’ve run into classmates from almost 50 years ago. In Park City, a woman had seen a TV interview with me while she was sitting in the dentist chair. When she arrived at my signing later in the day, we figured out she had played basketball with my sister at the University of Utah.
An older woman who volunteers with me at a homeless shelter in Minneapolis arranged a ride with Metro Mobility so she could attend an event in an outer suburb. The reading was interrupted by red lights and a beeping backup alarm at the store window when the bus arrived to pick her up. I stopped mid-sentence, so she could buy the book and get it signed before she left.
At a pre-Christmas reading, carolers arrived and started singing at the front of the store just as I’d begun reading in the back. I just sang along.
Do you have plans for future books and will you continue themes from “Monument Road”?
I’m at work on a sequel of sorts that is also set in the Grand Valley. Some minor characters in “Monument Road” will get bigger lives in the next novel. Without betraying too much, it involves a character who must face once again the aftermath of a tragic event that has already drastically changed her life. The town, meanwhile, is accelerating its efforts to erase homelessness — one way or another — in hopes of attracting a big development project. It’ll deal with questions about the meaning of home, the limits of charity, the folly of assuming resource extraction is our salvation and, as always, the possibility of redemption. Writing about how humans fool themselves will occupy me for a long, long time.