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UtahLit book club: Writer tells an epic Western story at a thriller’s pace

Books » BK Loren’s “Theft” finds the beauty in tracking the traumas of a fractured family.

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Over the years, she supported herself in jobs — candy factory worker, cafe server, ranch hand, corporate brainstormer, graphic artist and writing teacher — that allowed her to put words together in her head. "I did everything while trying to write," she says. "I loved words. That’s pretty much all I knew."

Along the way, she developed an observer’s eye and compassion for the issues surrounding America’s working classes. At the candy factory in Denver, she arrived before dawn just to line up to punch in. "People lined up early, like a Springsteen concert, just to work," she recalls.

At a glance

Exploring the story of ‘Theft’

Join the Tribune’s book club discussion of BK Loren’s debut novel on Friday, March 28, at 12:15 p.m. at sltrib.com. There are lot of ways to participate: Send comments via text at 801-609-8059, tweets to #TribTalk, or post comments about the book at Facebook.com/UtahLit or email to ellenf@sltrib.com or jnpearce@sltrib.com.

April UtahLit » Next month’s conversation will be about former Tribune reporter Tom Zoellner’s “Train.”

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One influential job was working at Eldorado Canyon State Park, where she learned from the late Dock Teegarden, a master tracker, who began tracking wild animals when his doctor told him to get more exercise.

Once, while working security for an art gallery — "guarding paintings that were bolted to the wall, not a hard job," she says — Loren heard about someone who had been admitted to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. "I did not know one could study writing in school," she says. She went on to earn a master’s degree in fiction writing from the University of New Mexico before studying at Iowa.

Since 1994, she has focused on writing and freelance teaching. Her essays have been publishing in literary magazines and anthologized in "Best American Spiritual Writing." In 2001, she published a memoir of essays, "The Way of the River: Adventures and Meditations of a Woman Martial Artist."

After her novel was published, Loren’s recent works were collected in "Animal, Mineral, Radical: A Flock of Essays on Wildlife, Family & Food," which was blurbed by fellow Western writer Pam Houston. Houston labeled Loren a "Rocky Mountain angel of sense-making," calling her essays "compassionate, clear-seeing, beautifully made and tender towards the world and all of the creatures (including humans) who inhabit it."

Loren says she loves to hear from readers who say the fictional story of "Theft" has helped them deal with the loss of a loved one. On an Internet review site, one post commented that the novel was hard to review, because it wasn’t about just one thing.

Barbara Norris, a Dallas-area writer and editor, recalls a piece of writing advice Loren shared at a recent workshop. "Narrative is like a constellation. Look for the moments in your story that glow. The rest is not necessary. Like the lines in the star charts, what connects the moments is self-evident. Story is about the moments that glow."

When Loren went on to read from "Theft," Norris understood what she had meant. "Every word shimmers off the page."

"I say the line is the moment, and the plot has to do with what happens next," Loren says she tells writers. "As I write, I try to point people to the moment. I hope the moments are as important as what happens next. If all you have is the future, as the Dalai Lama would say, then you’ve got nothing."

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