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Tuesday, February 19,2013

Snow snakes, boy princesses and mountain men

Local authors gather for reading at Boulder Book Store

By Stephanie Riesco

While teaching elementary school kids how to ski in places like Copper Mountain and Eldora Mountain Resort, Annie Fox saw her fair share of spills on the slopes. "On no, you fell! The snow snake got you!" was the popular joke with ski instructors who tried to make light of the situation.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh geez, how mean is that?'" says Fox, author of Sonder the Snow Snake. "I came up with my book to say that the snow snake didn't mean to make kids fall, he was just learning to play in the snow and he isn't perfect either. He's a very fuzzy nice little character."

Fox, along with local authors Eileen Kiernan-Johnson, David Jessup and Bruce Ehlenback, will showcase her work at Boulder Book Store's Local Authors Afternoon on Sunday, Feb. 24. For many authors in attendance, like Fox, this is their first published book. Fox even decided to self-publish her work due to expenses and her story's niche appeal.

"I never sent it out to the publisher because I just didn't think any publisher would know what to do with it," Fox says. "It's a Colorado or Utah mountain town book, so the audience is very specific. It's really a celebration of winter."

While Fox hopes to encourage helmet safety and care for environmental issues with her book, Sonder the Snow Snake is mainly a carefree story about playing and learning in the snow. Roland Humphrey is wearing a WHAT?, on the other hand, aims to impart education about gender norms.

Kiernan-Johnson, another self-published author who was an attorney for 10 years, wrote the book for her son, who prefers sparkles and rainbows to traditionally masculine interests. Though room has been made for "tomboy" heroines in children's books, she says there are few similar role models for young boys.

"[My son] felt a little sad that he didn't see characters like him," she says. "I just realized there was a void in the literature and I wished there was something out there for parents like me. But it also has broader themes of empathy and acceptance and wanting to be authentic."

Unlike My Princess Boy, a book that has gained national attention for bringing awareness about this same issue, Kiernan-Johnson writes her story from a little boy's perspective, instead of through the eyes of his parents. However, as a mother of two, she says she hopes parents will enjoy her book too.

"There are some children's books that aren't that much fun for me to read to my kids, so I wanted to make it a delight for grown ups with rich text," she says. "From friends and unknown people who have bought the book, they really enjoy the rhymes and the language."

Kiernan-Johnson and Fox will both read their stories to children during the first half of the event, followed by Ehlenbeck and Jessup.

Bruce Ehlenbeck will present his novel Some Time Till Knowing. Ehlenbeck's novel finds his lead Luke in a search for meaning after his father's death. With this in mind, Luke travels to Boulder, where he hopes to find answers to his inner conflicts and desires.

Jessup has historical context he will unearth in addition to the reading. For his novel, Mariano's Crossing, Jessup will talk about his subject, Colorado mountain man Mariano Medina.

"I'm planning a slideshow presentation with photographs to explain what we know about the Mariano family," Jessup says. "There are so many questions about left unanswered by history."

A story about love and revenge, Jessup's book follows Medina, who was a scout for Kit Carson and a wealthy settler on Colorado's Big Thompson River, his Native American wife, Takansky, and his daughter, Lena, a teenager girl with a talent for horseback riding.

As an owner of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch in Loveland, Jessup has always been fascinated by the history of the American West. He spent 10 years writing this first novel in the early mornings, while also working as a full-time rancher. Though he is a first-time novelist, Jessup's work has already gained accolades, such as winning the Colorado Gold Writing Contest. He says that going to local writers' conferences has made a big difference in the quality of his book.

"It's getting with a group of people who aren't afraid to critique to work," Jessup says. "You think about their books and it's mutually reinforcing and helpful. I've gotten a lot out of working with other authors."

Local Authors Afternoon will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Boulder Book Store, located at 1107 Pearl St., Boulder. The event is free and open to the public.

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