Livingston author to sign copies of debut novel Sunday in Billings
By JACI WEBB firstname.lastname@example.org Dec 15, 2016
Livingston author Brian Petersen looked to familiar ground to set his debut novel, “Vanish.”
Petersen will be in Billings to sign copies of the book at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18, at For A Few Books More, 520 N. 32nd St.
The 270-page novel, published by Prairie Grass Books, an imprint of Pronghorn Press, is set in Petersen’s hometown of New Town, N.D.
Petersen created fictional characters, Ted and Mercy, who are married, only not to each other. The third character is Russ Baer, a lifelong oil man.
Petersen said in a telephone interview that he wanted to incorporate issues of race into the book because of the relationship he had growing up with the three tribes in that area, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. Mercy is Native American and Ted, the narrator of the story, is white.
“Through those three characters, I am able to talk about how impressively the people deal with overlapping cultures,” Petersen said. “My family is still back there in the area of New Town. It leaves a stamp on you.”
Petersen lived for 20 years in Billings, working in area bookstores before moving to Livingston to pursue writing. He also worked at newspapers in Moscow, Idaho, and Grand Forks, N.D.
The title of the book, “Vanish,” refers to a one-time suggested name for the community of New Town, implying that the Garrison Dam caused the area to vanish. Lake Sakakawea, created in the early 1950s by damming the Missouri River, destroyed the traditional way of life for the tribes and 1,700 tribal members were relocated to New Town.
Petersen said he is pleased with the realistic dialogue. One reviewer, Laura Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune called the book “high adventure.”
“Vanish is sold, literary and entertaining,” Donovan wrote.
Author draws inspiration from hometown for first novel
Petersen signing debut book Saturday in Williston
All the while Brian Petersen was spending years working for newspapers across North Dakota and several other states, he knew there was a different kind of story he needed to write.
The idea behind Petersen’s book “Vanish” took shape years ago, as he drew on his experiences growing up in New Town, and used them as background for a tale of interracial love and the exploits of an oil man who has made a small fortune during a Bakken energy boom.
Petersen makes indirect reference to New Town through the title of the book, which bears the name of the town where the story takes place. Local lore holds that New Town, which was created in the early 1950s when the two towns of Van Hook and Sanish were flooded out by Lake Sakakawea, was almost named “Vanish.”
“For a short while the city considered combining the two names, but saner heads prevailed,” Petersen said.
He uses the fictional town as a modern-day setting for an extramarital affair between a mortician, who is white, and a young Native American tribal administrator. The tumultuous relationship between the two begins to not only represent a rekindled love, but also an intertwining of two cultures living side by side in a small town.
The novel, set in the mid-2000s, includes flashbacks that shed light on when the two met, in a town shaped by the booms and busts of the Bakken oilfield, and now populated by the likes of a third character, a burly businessman who looks out for at least one of the spouses who is being cheated on. The story, part Wild West romp, is infused with Petersen’s own remembrances of a community that, upon close inspection, wasn’t as divided as some would expect.
“Part of the reason I wanted to write the book is I think they’ve done a pretty good job of it,” he said, describing childhood friendships that paid no heed to racial or cultural boundaries. “The book came out of my experiences. If you went to school in New Town, you found yourself feeling like a part of an unspoken club.”
Petersen will be at Books on Broadway on Saturday at 1 p.m. for a book signing. “Vanish” is his first novel, although the 57-year-old author, who now lives in Montana, has plans to write stories based in that state and in Wyoming.
“Most every newspaper person probably has a novel in the back of their mind,” he said.
More information about Petersen is available on his website.
What: Book signing
Who: Brian Petersen, author of “Vanish”
Where: Books on Broadway
When: Saturday at 1 p.m.