The “Dances with Words” event was opened by Montana Western student Callie Wollenburg. She read three original poems including “All the Kids,” a confessional piece about youthful naivety and tragedy in high school.
In a particularly powerful line from an untitled poem, she read: “Even kissing fire won’t melt a heart of stone.”
“Dances with Words” is produced by English Professor Alan Weltzien. The series, free and open to the public, provides the community with a unique opportunity to listen to writers reading their own works, including Montana Western student writers.
Professor Alan Weltzien was on-hand to provide an introduction for Patterson. He said, “Well-written short stories are like dessert,” before proclaiming Patterson to be a “master baker of literary confectioneries.”
Patterson’s new book, “Ballet at the Moose Lodge,” features 16 short stories that explore what it is to be a female in the American West.
The Drumlummon Institute, publishers of her new book, stated, “As her narratives reveal the lives of travelers, homemakers, radio show announcers, mothers, teachers, dancers, shop clerks, and the subterranean world of girls, they take the reader from a ferry dock in Resurrection Bay, Alaska, to a two-room school in the Bitterroot Valley, from brash, backpacking college students to young new mothers on the edge, from the 1920s to the 1990s.”
For the reading, she chose to read a complete short story. It centered around Daisy Flick, a housewife and DJ living in Western Montana. She cultivates a community of like-minded females with her show that consists of recipes, coupon tips, local news, and personal anecdotes that are equal parts truth and lies.
After the reading, Patterson revealed that the story is based on a piece from “The New Yorker,” along with a darker turn the narrative takes that was lifted directly from her own experience.
In one scene, Daisy must assist her husband with one of their pregnant cows. “He knows more about this calf’s birth than his own children’s,” Daisy thinks, highlighting the marital tension that permeates the tale.
Impressed by the scene, an audience member asked Patterson if she grew up on a ranch. She replied that she did not but was flattered because she was “terrified of getting that wrong.”
On her writing process, Patterson said she often comes up with endings first before working her way back to the beginning.
Kim Zupan, author of “The Ploughmen,” wrote of Patterson’s stories, “The emotional breadth of these heart-wrenching yarns is vast, the characters within them fragile yet counterintuitively rugged and complex. Here are stories that explore the darkest recesses of the soul and will resound in your head like the ring of an ax long after you put this wonderful book aside.”
The “Dances with Words” series continues throughout each academic year. For upcoming readings, please visit our upcoming Events page.