As the final Monday night classes of the semester kicked off this past week, students, staff, and faculty from around the College were given a crash course in Kingdom lore and literature from one of Vermont’s masters.
“When I was a boy growing up in the Kingdom my father and my older brother Charlie couldn’t say two words to each other without getting into an argument.”
Those words might sound familiar. That’s because they make up the opening line of Howard Frank Mosher’s novel Stranger In The Kingdom, which the author spoke about in a presentation that was made available to all CCV classes and community members through the College’s streaming service.
But this was more than Mosher speaking about his books. The presentation was more like drifting on a canoe along the creeks that meander about the hollows, valleys and villages of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom(NEK) with a master storyteller as the guide. For roughly an hour and a half the 72-year-old author flipped through slides from his personal collection of NEK photographs. As the photos would appear, Mosher would glance at the screen and launch into a story about the scene and how it related in some way to his life, and by extension, some part of one of his 13 novels.
Along the way tips and truths about writing and writers would slip into the conversation, giving students tools and guidance that will prove useful as they hone their skills as writers. And Mosher wasn’t shy in his sharing. When a student asked if he ever felt concerned about being familiar with his subjects, Mosher scoffed and explained why not.
“I feel like a fraud all the time and every writer tells me the same thing. You’ve just got to try and know a little bit about everything but none of us writers know much about anything,” he said between laughs. “Writers are frauds right from the start. They’re liars and thieves, and we steal from other books, we’re born plagiarists, and none of that would be right to do with non-fiction or college papers, but with novels, all bets are off.”
Students in Perry Thomas’ Seminar in Educational Inquiry class were able to meet Mosher and hear the presentation in person at CCV’s Newport academic center. But for the first time the College was able to stream a presentation, allowing entire classes and individuals around the state the opportunity to hear the renowned Vermont author.
“This was a wonderful opportunity for us to use our videoconferencing system as a streaming tool to make a fantastic presentation by Howard Frank Mosher available to students at all of our centers,” said Eric Sakai, dean of academic technology. “It’s similar to the way in which we’ve been able to offer courses via internet-based videoconferencing to students in our smaller academic centers, and something we plan to do more of in the future.”
In Montpelier, instructor Glennie Sewell had his Reading and Writing for College class tuned in when a few sepia-toned portraits popped up on the screen, prompting the writer to talk a bit about character development.
“You’ve all seen at the front pages of a novel that little disclaimer that says the characters in this book are not real and are not based on real people,” Mosher said into the camera. “That’s the biggest lie in the history of the world; of course they’re real people, whom else would they be based on?”
Mosher went on to talk about the people of Irasburg, Orleans, and other Kingdom towns who had inspired the characters in novels such as Stranger in The Kingdom, Where the Rivers Flow North, and others. This talk about characters based on real-life people prompted one of Sewell’s students to ask via chat whether anyone had ever become upset and confronted Mosher about characters he had based on them. Mosher, with a grin and a guffaw, said no, but there are other things the locals take issue with.
“If I get the name of the bank in Orleans wrong they’ll criticize me, but if I tell of how they killed their grandfather in his sleep they don’t seem to mind that. It’s very strange.”
Toward the end of his slideshow Mosher moved away from discussing his works and into some of the more important things aspiring writers should keep in mind, such as not being deflated by under-attended book readings or negative reviews. But Mosher had one piece of advice he hung on for a good while as an image of his favorite books from other authors appeared on screen:
“If you’re gonna write stories, the one thing you’ve just got to do is read and read and read.”