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Author discusses westerns, cliches

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Western Author Mark Mitten reads from his first book “Sipping Whisky From a Shallow Grave” during his public appearance at the New Ulm Library.

NEW ULM — Author Mark Mitten visited the public library Thursday night to talk about his books “Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave” and “Hard to Quit”.

Mitten is a member of the Western Writers of America. Both of his books are westerns set in Colorado in the 1890s.

“Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave” takes place on a mountain pass in Colorado and is told from the perspectives of three groups. The first group is a gang of outlaws who have broken out of jail; the second group is the posse chasing the bandits and the third group are cowboys moving cattle through the mountain. The three parties converge at a crossroads and drama begins.

His second book “Hard to Quit” is a sequel to the first, but rather than set on a mountain pass, the drama is set in a mining boom town.

Mitten said these boom towns had a tendency to breed lawlessness. “Hard to Quit” veers into historical fiction. Some of the characters, including the main villain, are based or real people from Colorado’s history.

Mitten said because his books were based on history, they were a greater challenge to write. They had to be true to the time period.

In marketing “Hard to Quit,” Mitten produced an eight-minute short film that serves as a trailer for the book. He hired actors to play the character and introduce the setup. If the book is successful, he might produce a full length adaptation.

During the question and answers section, Mitten spoke on some of the themes of western literature. Morality is often a central theme of westerns. He explained there is usually good guys and bad guys, which audiences respond to in morally ambiguous times.

Asked if he tried to distance his writing from classic western tropes or if he embraced them, Mitten said he tried to do both.

He recognized the constraints and structures of the western, but always pushed agains the grain. By setting his books in Colorado instead of the southwestern deserts of New Mexico or the open ranges of Wyoming and the Dakotas, he was able set his books apart.

Asked what set a western apart from any other genre, Mitten said it was difficult to narrow down because for every rule of the genre, there was a great example of western that broke the rule.

“You know it when you see it,” he said.

Mitten added most westerns had a sense of the frontier and a strong feeling of individualism in the characters.

Mitten currently lives in Winstead but he is originally from Colorado. Living in Colorado inspired him to write westerns. Mitten explained the state has a desire to preserve its history which can be seen everywhere.

Mitten is planning on writing a third book in his western series. The book has no title yet, but will continue the story of characters from his previous books.

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