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(Courtesy Photo) Kate Jarvik Birch published her first two young adult novels, "Deliver Me" and "Perfected," this spring.
Summer reading: Five Utah writers launch books across the fictional range

Books » Don’t look for descriptions of mountains or a gridded city plot in these new fictions, which range from literary contemporary stories to dystopian young-adult plots.

By Ellen Fagg Weist

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jun 14 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jun 16 2014 01:17 pm

Summer is the perfect time to settle in with a good book — or six. For this list of reading selections, we’ve collected a short shelf of books recently published with Utah ties. Some of these writers are launching their publishing careers, while others are launching new directions in their publishing biographies. A few of the stories feature local backdrops and characters, but for the most part these books aren’t focused on Utah landscape or environmental issues. They range from sharp, heartbreaking literary fiction to the page-turning empowerment of dystopian young-adult stories.

April Wilder

At a glance

Summer reading with Western flair

KUER’s RadioWest recently broadcast its list of books for summer reading, as recommended by Utah booksellers. Find the complete list at radiowest.kuer.org/post/2014-summer-reading.

Here are suggestions from Ken Sanders for books about Utah, LDS culture and western Americana.

“Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes” » by Scott Abbott and Sam Rushforth, Torrey House Press, paperback, $15.95.

“Theories Of Forgetting” » by Lance Olsen, Fiction Collective Two/The University of Alabama Press, paperback, $22.95.

“Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of Twelve” » by William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt, hardcover, $35.95.

“Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism” » by Michael W. Homer, hardcover, $34.95.

“The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing” » by Katie Lee, Dream Garden Press, paperback, $25.00.

“South Pass” » by Will Bagley, Oklahoma University Press, hardcover, $29.95.

“Blow Sand In His Soul: Bates Wilson the Heart of Canyonlands” » by Jen Jackson Quintano, Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, paperback, $18.95.

Utah Lit goes live

You’re invited to the first live meeting of The Tribune’s Utah Lit book club, a discussion with Rebecca Morris, co-writer of “If I Can’t Have You,” a true-crime book about the disappearance of West Valley mother Susan Powell. The event will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Viridian Event Center, 8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan.

Book launch for Kate Jarvik Birch’s “Perfected”

When » July 2, 7 p.m.

Where » The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Info » Free

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference

When » June 16-20

Where » Waterford School, 1480 E. 9400 South, Sandy

Registration » Featuring writers, agents and editors: weeklong classes, $545; afternoon mini workshops, $110.

Keynote » Writer James Dashner will offer a keynote address as part of a free public event, which begins at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, June 19, and continues at 6 p.m.

Where » Waterford School Auditorium, Performing Arts Building #800, 1700 E. 9550 South, Sandy

Readings » Carol Lynch Williams, Saturday, May 17, 7 p.m.

Info » wifyr.com

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Book » "This Is Not an Accident," a story collection with a novella, "You’re That Guy," set partially in Salt Lake City. "You know what’s in Salt Lake City? Mountains and Mormons and no getting over or under either one," a woman tells the main character as he is driving through Nevada to Utah. "People kept preparing Eckhart for Salt Lake, it seemed, the way they prepare you for an amusement park ride with a psychological element."

Background » Wilder, who grew up in Northern California, earned a math degree from UCLA and an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana. She received her Ph.D. in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah in 2013. Her essay "Strings Attached," about getting pregnant at age 41 with her ex-husband, was published in "O" magazine in February.

Inspiration » Wilder’s novella tells the story of Eckhart, whose life is stalled after the death of his father, who was once brilliant but chose to homelessness and estrangement from his children. The story includes images she observed of a man in Liberty Park, who carried around a doll, treating it as tenderly as if it were a baby. She asked fellow graduate students if they had seen the man, and she wove some of their speculations about him — that he had lost his wife and family in a tragic fire, or about the store on 400 South that adjusted the doll’s glasses for him — into her fiction. "As an outsider, you don’t understand the culture," she says of living in Utah. "I don’t think any place in America asks you as many questions about family as when you come here."

What’s interesting » Wilder writes smart, funny, careening sentences that blend heartbreak and comedy, her stories peopled by characters obsessed with self-destruction and betrayal. "The younger the reader, the more tragic they find my stories. The older the reader, the more comic," she says.

What’s next » She is working on a novel, "I Think About You All the Time, Starting Tomorrow," which might be considered magical realism as it focuses on what happens when a 46-year-old man dies just before the birth of his first child and is reincarnated into the body of a baby.

Halina Duraj

Book » "The Family Cannon," a collection of linked stories, narrated by a woman whose father is a Polish survivor of Auschwitz.

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Background » Raised in California, Duraj earned an MA in creative writing from the University of California, Davis, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Utah in 2010. She’s an assistant professor at the University of San Diego, where she directs the Lindsay J. Cropper Center for Creative Writing. Her story "Fatherland," originally published in the Harvard Review, was selected for the 2014 O. Henry Prize anthology.

Inspiration » Duraj’s stories explore tensions between mothers, daughters and fathers in a Polish-American family, all affected in various ways by war trauma. "All have a germ in ‘real life,’ a moment or a memory, something I heard or a line that I poached," Duraj says. "They start in some kind of sensory groundedness that then spins off fictionally."

What’s interesting » While living in Utah, Duraj says her writing was influenced by the drama of the desert landscape and local landmarks, such as the Oquirrh Mountains, which for a time she thought were named for the color ochre. "All that subtly influenced the way I was writing, which became more spare," she says. Her stories are carefully observed, never overexplained, while the language is both playful and precise. The collection’s final story, "The Company She Keeps," is searingly honest and particularly heartbreaking.

What’s next » She’s working on "Fatherland," a novel based on similar characters but expanded to the entire family and spanning 100 years of history. "It’s a big, messy epic novel right now," she says.

Kara Weiss

Book » "Late Lights," a collection of five linked stories about adolescents with adult-size problems, who cross lines of class and privilege. "Late Lights" was named Best General Fiction/Novel (under 80,000 words) by the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Background » Weiss was reared in Brookline, Mass., graduated from Williams College and then received an MFA from the University of Washington. She teaches composition and creative writing at Westminster College.

Inspiration » Weiss’ stories were partly inspired by the outliers in her public school, kids who were bused from inner-city Boston to her upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood. Later, in graduate school, she found another generation of these unseen kids while volunteering at a program that taught poetry to kids in juvenile detention centers. "A lot of these kids are not bad kids, but their circumstances suck, and they don’t have good influences in their lives," she says. "They’re stuck, and that’s the thing about adolescence I find the most intriguing and frustrating. These characters are people who deserve to be known."

What’s interesting » Weiss’ gritty stories are beautifully observed, spare on judgment, as they explore complicated lives and relationships. Readers have told her they want to adopt Monty, who is Irish and Cambodian and poor; in the book’s title story, he is 16, and being released from his fourth stint in juvenile detention. "He is fictional," the writer says, "but if you met him in real life, you wouldn’t want to adopt him."

What’s next » She’s writing a novel, "Us Without You," that focuses on "Late Lights" characters Monty, Erin and Mr. Broder, set in the time in-between the earlier stories. "I felt like I had more to say about them," Weiss says. "I really wanted the reader to understand Monty in all of his complicated ways."

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