If you ever find yourself in Butte, Montana on a second or fourth Wednesday of the month, chances are you might just be able to experience a Brown Bag Lunch at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. The Brown Bag Lunch is a free event. Speakers are invited to share their expertise on topics that can range from the Easter Uprising of 1916 to Montana sapphires. On October 12th MainstreetMontana.com attended one of these events and Marian Jensen, a Montana author who writes mysteries told the crowd about how she came to be an author and talked about her series, Mining City Mysteries.
By Diane Larson
Just seconds after she began speaking, Marian Jensen, author of The Mining City Mysteries, owned the entire room at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. Right away she had the crowd laughing at Butte anecdotes.
One of her anecdotes was about putting the plot of a story together. Marian told the crowd she read in John Gardner’s book The Art if Fiction, “There are only two plots, a stranger comes to town, and a man/woman goes on a journey.” She said, when she read that she thought, really, only two. She said she started thinking of all the many possible exceptions to the rule. Then she started thinking about her own books, and she told the crowd, “and in every single one of them a stranger comes to town,” she said.
Marian was the October 12th speaker at the Brown Bag Lunch. The brown bag lunches are a free event provided by the BSB Archives twice a month on Wednesday at noon. On this Wednesday Marian was speaking about her books, The Mining City Mystery series.
There are three books in the series. The first one is Deadly Reckoning, was first published in 2013. The second is Grave Madness published in 2015, and most recent is Mortal Wounds published this year in 2016.
The series follows a sister and brother amateur sleuth team, Mesa and Chance Dawson. In the first book, Deadly Reckoning, Mesa is coming home to temporarily help the family business, a newspaper called The Mining City Missenger.
The narrative for Deadly Reckoning begins over the Labor Day weekend as Mesa Dawson is flying into Bert Mooney airport, across town another plane is attempting to land in Uptown Butte, but crashes. Chance Dawson, Mesa’s brother sees the plane go down and heads straight over to check it out. As he arrives the pilot and another passenger are no-where to be found. But, in the plane is a high-profile ex-con, dead.
In the second book Grave Madness, Mesa and Chance are attempting to solve a 30-year old death so that they can crack the case of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade murder. In this book Marian explores the stigma attached to mental illness and so much more.
Independence Day is the backdrop for the third and most recent installment in the Mining City Mysteries, Mortal Wounds. This mystery opens with a young woman possibly jumping off the Finlen Hotel in Uptown. Is it a suicide? Is it a murder? And what does it all have to do with a little black book and “Elsie’s Babies?” If you are from Butte you possibly have heard of Gerties babies, need I say more.
Marian explained that there are certain conventions that one needs to follow when writing mysteries. Your main characters need to be in a position where they can stumble across a dead body from time to time. “That’s why I went in the direction of journalism, at least there would be some familiarity with crime,” said Marian.
Each book is an exploration of the fascinating ethnic groups in Butte, its people and rich history. My own life experiences seem to find their way to the page as well. “Butte is just filled with quirky people, and I mean that in a good way,” said Marian. She went on to say, “People have wonderful backgrounds and they know their history and they want to talk about it.”
Upon the advice of well-known mystery writer Sue Grafton, Marian journals with each novel. Start to write about interesting detail in a journal and suddenly you have written a scene. As you write you can begin to hear the character’s voice, then you move that from the journal to the manuscript. Sometimes the journal can be longer than the book. She puts everything into the journal. It can be snippets of dialogue she overheard, or something about the weather.
Talking about the writing process and the development of the story Marian said, “When you are writing fiction, you have to be open to where the story will take you, and all you can do is sort of follow the threads.”
Marian explained how she self publishes through Amazon. Self-publishing she explains provides an avenue for those persons who have something to say, may not end up on the best seller list but it still has heart. “I write for myself, and I think that makes the best story, I see myself as a story teller,” said Marian.
Marian is a big proponent of using your imagination and creativity. As she ended her talk she said “I think the world would be a better place if we all used our right brain more. Creativity is the balance for the stress in our lives.”
Big Sky Connection
November 7, 2016
MISSOULA, Mont. - The sage grouse is a big topic of discussion on lands in the West, but a new study says some other birds might get protection underneath the grouse's feathers.
Researchers found three songbirds that live alongside the grouse have benefited from efforts to conserve sagebrush and grouse habitat throughout 11 western states, including Montana.
Patrick Donnelly, a landscape ecologist at Intermountain West Joint Venture and one of the research authors, says conservation efforts are focused on areas with lots of sage grouse and his research shows the effects of that on the other birds.
"We found the correlation with songbirds was even greater," he points out. "So where we have more grouse, we have even more songbirds. And our conservation strategies are focusing on those very specific places. It's a win-win for both species."
The research focused on three species of songbirds: the Brewer's Sparrow, sage thrasher and sagebrush sparrow.
Donnelly says there are 170 sagebrush species that could benefit from being under the umbrella of grouse conservation efforts.
Sage grouse face a number of threats in the West. Donnelly says an invasive grass known as cheatgrass establishes itself in the wake of wildfires, which have grown in frequency. Sagebrush and other native plants are then pushed out of the habitat.
Donnelly says invasive plants, along with man-made threats such as energy development, fragment the environment.
He adds when thinking about the investments made to conserve grouse, it's important to think about the larger umbrella helping many other species.
"It's not so much a sage grouse approach in that context, but an ecosystem approach," he stresses. "And so we're transitioning from this single species of sage grouse to a broader sagebrush ecosystem conservation perspective, and this study with songbirds allows us to tell that story more effectively than we have been in the past."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identifies all three species of songbirds as species of conservation concern because of declines in their populations.
Nov. 5, 2016
Butte, Montana’s storied M&M bar and grill was robbed this evening just before 6 pm, Sheriff Ed Lester reported.
An employee at the bar told police that a man had entered the M&M and demanded money. The suspect held his hand under his sweatshirt, causing the clerk to think that Rupert had a weapon, the sheriff said in a press release.
No weapon was actually observed, and no one was injured during the course of the robbery. Rupert was given “an undisclosed amount of money,” the release said. Rupert fled the scene on foot, the sheriff wrote.
Rupert is 5 feet 11 inches tall, and he weighs 175 pounds. He has brown hair, and his eye color is hazel. He was wearing black and orange shorts and a black sweatshirt.
He may be armed, and he should be considered dangerous, the release said.
Those with information are encouraged to call Crimestoppers at 782-7336. Callers with information that leads to an arrest and conviction may be eligible for a reward, the release said.
The investigation is ongoing, the sheriff noted.
By Diane Larson
“I consider myself a story teller, first and foremost, and then a wordsmith,” said Marian Jensen, author of the Mining City Mysteries.
Marian had a middle-class upbringing, in Louisville, Kentucky. She is one of three children. Marian has one older brother and one younger brother, which makes Marian the middle child. Psychology Today says that middle children are justice seekers, possibly that plays into her love of mysteries.
Marian’s father worked his whole life at Seagram’s Distillery in Louisville. Her mother was a transplant from London, England; a war bride. Marian’s mom was born in them month of October. The year she turned 20, 1940, Marian’s mother spent that birthday hunkered down in a bomb shelter. The blitz was going strong that month and bombs were being dropped every night.
Living through the Battle of Britain made Marian’s mom a strong woman. Marian said, “Keep calm and carry on” was how she lived her life. She instilled the same forge ahead quality in her children. Marian pays homage to her mother and a group of women in Butte she has met that were war brides themselves in the character of the grandmother in the Mining City Mysteries. Of these women, Marian says, “They have a spirit of let’s get things done, life is short.”
Marian’s father grew up without a mother. His mom died of Spanish flu when he was just six months old, so he was mostly raised by older siblings. Marian said her father had a sensitive side which she feels this quality in her father helped to fuel her imagination. Growing up he was not coddled or comforted. He was a hard-working man who never let anything hold him back.
Marian’s mother agreed to marry Marian’s father for several reasons one being that he promised she would be able to go home once every five years and visit her family. Marian and her brothers were able to accompany their mom on these trips. Marian remembers she went when she was four years of age and again at the age of nine. It was the latter trip that would make a big impression on Marian.
They spent five months in London living with Marian’s grandmother. They had the opportunity to attend school there and became ingrained in this new way of life. “It just really fed my imagination,” she said. When they came back to the states, she says, “we had this platform for comparisons between the different ways of life and that makes you reflective and fuels your imagination.” The time was 1956, so Britain was still attempting to get on its feet and rationing was still happening. “Years later my older brother and I would talk about how it felt to be there to see how life was lived very differently,” said Marian.
The experience of being able to travel and live a different lifestyle affected her in a big way. You begin to think about so much, “Why is the world the way it is, why do some people think this way here and over in England it’s different, it just always made me feel like it was a larger world out there,” said Marian.
Two years before her trip to London, Marian was stricken with Bulbar Polio. This is a form of polio that involves lungs and muscles for swallowing and breathing. Someone afflicted with this has trouble swallowing, speaking, and breathing. She spent 17 days in an iron lung and several months in the hospital. She was not able to see her brothers almost the entire time she was in the hospital.
That Halloween there was no trick-or-treating for Marian. But, one day, they let Marian go to the lobby where she saw her older brother standing there holding not one, but two bags of candy. He had gone trick-or-treating with two bags. One for him and one for his younger sister who was ill. She was so happy to see him. Even though she was not able to eat the candy it was this kind gesture that stays in heart.
Her relationship with her brother is the reason why she writes about a brother and sister team in her novels. “When I tell people that I write about the relationship between sister and brother it goes back a long, long way,” she explains.
Marian was very successful in school and earned a scholarship to Centre College in Danville Kentucky where she earned her bachelors degree in English. Marian became an English teacher. “I really enjoyed it, but I also realized that there was a far greater need for kids,” said Marian. Many students would stay after school and visit with Marian, they sought comfort, advice or just needed someone to listen to them, and she became that someone. She went back to school and received her master’s degree in counseling at the University of Cincinnati.
Later Marian decided to get her doctorate. She received her PhD in Education at West Virginia University. But it’s the liberal arts degree that Marian values the most. She feels it is the liberal arts education that she values most. “I am a big proponent of liberal arts education.” Marian says.
After she received her doctorate, Marian took a position as Assistant to Vice President of Student Affairs at West Virginia. She was the director of the universities undergraduate advising center for about 15 years.
She moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio where Marian took a job as dean of students. It was her time here, at Antioch that really cultivated her longing to write. During the summer months Antioch hosts a writer’s workshop.
Marian attended the writer’s workshop, “they only took a certain number of people and you get to eat lunch and dinner with editors, agents and authors,” said Marian. So this experience provided the opportunity to meet and learn from such authors as Sue Grafton and Natalie Goldberg.
Both Sue and Natalie gave Marian the advice and confidence she needed to the pursue writing. About Grafton, Marian said, “I can still hear her say, ‘perfect your craft, don’t worry about getting published, worry about finishing the manuscript.’” Grafton is also the one who recommended Marian start a writer’s journal while writing. She puts everything in the journal, it is where the characters are developed. “Character development is everything, if you know the characters the story will come,” Grafton told her. To this day Marian keeps a journal with each project she does.
The writer’s workshop is where Marian met her agent. Her agent also told her, “finish your manuscript and then let’s see where it foes from there.” This was in 1999, and that is when she moved to Butte.
“I consider myself a story teller,” says Marian. For her it is all about being able to tell a story and mystery just lends itself to the story. Another component to mystery writing is creating a problem that needs to be solved, “I have always been a puzzler,” she said.
When Marian began putting her stories to paper she wanted the backdrop to be set in a small town. It seemed from her reading that the most mysteries were generally set in big cities like New York and London. Her first crack at mystery writing she had set in a small town in Ohio. It just didn’t seem to be working for her. Her agent came to visit her in Butte and once she experience Butte she said to Marian, “you should write about Butte.”
Butte’s history and its people lends itself to the story teller. People love their history here and they love to share that history. Marian says that there is such a wealth of stories her yet to be told. “I think Butte is the perfect setting for my books, I so enjoy making that setting come to life,” said Marian.
There are three books in the Mining City Mysteries and Marian is working on number four. In her books, Marian is able to celebrate her past, her family, the people and town of Butte America.
Today, Marian splits her time each year between Butte and Portland while writing or researching. Her philosophy is that we all need to be more creative, it’s a way to balance out your life. She added, we all contribute to the story, everyone has a valuable role in the narrative that is life.
October 24, 2016
BILLINGS, MT - The Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society (YVAS) will be showing the film Wild Flyers, November 21 at 7:00 p.m. at the Mayflower Congregational Church on the corner of Poly and Rehberg in Billings. This film reveals the incredible adaptions, tactics and brand new discoveries that explain how animals have mastered the sky and why they need it to survive.
This PBS family fascinating film considers the sky as one of the world’s most challenging places to live. But across the planet an extraordinary range of animals do something we can only dream of … take to the air. Some spend their whole lives airborne, others only visit but they all have one thing in common. They only survive by taking to the skies.
This YVAS presentation is free, open to the public, and offers newcomers an opportunity to become more acquainted with birding in the Yellowstone valley area.