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“Colorado is the great love of my life.”
As she speaks these words, Bellvue-based author Laura Pritchett provides the clue that reveals the central ethos behind all that she writes, whether it be contemporary fiction, magazine story, essay or non-fiction.
Pritchett grew up on her family’s small ranch close to the Rocky Mountain foothills and adjacent to the Poudre River, and for her, that has made all the difference.
From the short-story collection that became “Hell’s Bottom, Colorado,” her first book of fiction, to “Stars Go Blue,” her most recent novel which came out in 2014, and more than 100 short stories, essays and magazine articles written in-between, Pritchett remains faithful to her love of the land, its features, people and animal life. She will never run out of material. There will always be stories for her to tell, about these people and places and animals and the ways in which they interact with one another.
After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in English at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Pritchett interned with Milkweed Press in Minneapolis, the eventual publisher of “Hell’s Bottom.” Despite a whole series of successes that have followed, her first experience with publishing was rocky. After her elation at having Hell’s Bottom” accepted by New Rivers Press, her bubble burst a few months later when she learned that New Rivers was going out of business just as her book became next-in-line to be published.
Milkweed took it on, and in the end, “Hell’s Bottom”, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an admirable steely collection of stories and vignettes featuring a family of ranchers in mountain-shadowed Colorado,” went on to win the PEN USA Award and the Milkweed National Fiction Prize.
Her next novel, “Skybridge,” written while she was working on a Ph.D. in contemporary American literature and creative writing at Purdue University, won the WILLA fiction award. She completed the book while simultaneously studying, teaching undergraduate writing classes and getting ready for parenthood. “Worst three months of my life,” she said. “Trying to teach a class between bouts of morning sickness without the students catching on.”
Writing is so much a part of Pritchett’s life that she does it every day, usually in the morning when she says her imagination is at its best, before the critic inside her emerges.
For a time she forsook fiction in favor of shorter non-fiction pieces which were more manageable during a time when back and neck pain resulting from a car accident made it difficult to sit for long periods of time. She wrote some standing up and found that she could edit while lying down. She produced three anthologies during this period, “The Pulse of the River,” “Home Land: Ranching and a West that Works,” which won the Colorado Book Award, and “Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers and Dumpster Divers.”
Pritchett’s most recent novel, “Stars Go Blue,” returns to the lives of ranchers Renny and Ben Cross, first introduced in “Hell’s Bottom.” Now old and estranged, they are dealing with hard times on the ranch, the slow deterioration of Ben’s mind and the frightening knowledge that the killer of their daughter is about to be released from prison.
Claire Davis, author of “Winter Range” congratulates Pritchett for the writing of a story “this true and this tough,” calling it “an unswerving exploration into the trials of aging and its related losses, while giving testimony to the hardiness of the human spirit and the ways in which we transcend our own frailty in the name of love.”
Pritchett’s parents, Jim and Rose Brinks, are dealing with the difficult roles of Alzheimer’s patient and caregiver, a situation she observes daily as their daughter. She admits that it was a wrenching experience to write this story. She has been moved by responses to her work from caregivers who find comfort in her words.
After a whirlwind book tour that took her as far away as Oregon, Massachusetts and New York last summer, Pritchett is content to be home. “Stars Go Blue” publisher Counterpoint has offered her a contract for two more books, due for publication in 2015. These days she’s working on book revisions and looking forward to writing some shorter pieces for magazines.
Is there another novel on the horizon for Pritchett? Of course. “I’ve come to know the characters in my books. I have to find out what’s going to happen to them,” she said. Right now she’s watching Ben and Renny’s daughter, Carolyn, waiting to see what life will bring for her.
Meanwhile “Stars” is enjoying a top spot on the Colorado bestseller list and Pritchett’s article in the November issue of O Magazine, “Doing it My Way,” is giving readers some heavy duty food for thought.
The piece starts out like this: “My two teenagers are under strict instructions to honor their short, sweet time on this planet. This is no request — it’s one of my few nonnegotiable orders. After all the work I’ve done to nudge them toward the larger world, I want them to charge forth unencumbered and I’m quite sure that does not involve caring for anyone out of obligation, including me.”