When Pete Fromm was 20 years old he spent seven months alone in a tent in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness baby-sitting salmon eggs.His memoir about the experience, “Indian Creek Chronicles,” won him a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. Since then Fromm set a record by winning four more of the awards for his short stories and fiction. Among them, his novel “As Cool As I Am” was made into a feature film starring Claire Danes.
Fromm’s new memoir, “The Names of the Stars: A Life in the Wilds,” returns to the
isolation of the forest, diving into his life at age 45 when the husband and father of two got another offer to baby-sit eggs deep in Montana’s Bob Marshall wilderness. He takes it, despite the risks involved. The book explores his lifelong passion for the wild and the dangers and rewards of living life on his terms.
Fromm, recently returned from a European book tour, will present the annual Lewis-Clark State College Wallace Stegner lecture on Friday. Inland 360 got in touch with him at his home in Missoula, Mont., where he wakes each day at 4 a.m. to write, to get some thoughts on life and writing.
360: Do Europeans look at your books differently than those of us who live in the Northwest where many of your stories are set?
Fromm: Definitely. They’ve got a huge romance going with the American West and they still see it in kind of mythic types. (Traveling in France he heard over and over again), “In France we have no wilderness.” They can’t get enough of it, because it doesn’t exist to them. The one way they can get it is through these stories.
360: Here people can tend to take that for granted.
Fromm: Or, also, they can see it almost like a threatening thing, you know. My wife, when we were in college, long before she was my wife, when I spent seven months in the wilderness … all my state wildlife buddies (thought it was really great) but the girl I’d met from Butte said you’re out of your mind. It’s either take it for granted or the dangers of messing around out there can be accentuated. It can be of concern. Here (the dangers) are more well known, whereas in France, it’s this great place you can go be wild and be yourself.
360: Do you have a preference between writing fiction or nonfiction?
Fromm: I’m probably not supposed to say. I prefer fiction. I read fiction much more than nonfiction. When writing I get up every day excited to find out what’s going to happen because I don’t know that setting off. Writing nonfiction I know the base story but that same sense of discovery, it takes me so long. It can take me 12 years to realize what I think.
360: Does a story ever stall for you and if so, how do you keep it going? Do you have any writer’s tricks?
Fromm: Pretty much I just rely on panic. (I have) almost as many novels published as sitting on the shelves here because they didn’t quite come together in the end, which is a drag but you’re learning. I never write it off as that was a waste of two years.
360: What’s it been like to see your books made into movies?
Fromm: That’s weird. When “As Cool As I Am” was made into a movie, it was at least 10 years old when the process started so I’d kind of gotten some separation from the story. The director had a great way of explaining to me. (He said) your story is why every single person is here. Then the screenwriter took it and while staying true to your story she has to make it her story. Then I get it and I have to make it my story. We can’t do a facsimile.
This is somebody else’s movie. Of course there are things I would have done differently. …
I can still hear the characters speak so when they don’t say the words I expect them to it’s like, what’s that?
IF YOU GO
Who: Author Pete Fromm
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28
Where: Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St., Lewiston
Of Note: Fromm’s books will be available for sale and signing after the event.