Everyone Has a Story

By Erin Jensen

If  you love to read, you’ve probably wanted to be a writer at one time or another. That was my fondest dream as a teenager and probably still is, to tell the truth. Not everyone can be a full-time writer—unless you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, it’s hard to make a living that way. But some turn to writing in their spare time and actually produce entire books, an accomplishment that always impresses me. Some might wait for retirement, while others keep their day jobs, taking years to write, rewrite, and polish until they have a finished product.

Our valley has its share of part-time writers. Familiar names to many of our readers, Tom Walsh and Earle Layser have been valley residents for years, though Tom recently left for the warmer clime of Utah.

“Everyone has a story,” said LeAnn Bednar during our interview. Barbara Boyle said, “Don’t wait to do something you love.” I’m inspired by Teton Valley’s writers, who haven’t let life prevent them from creating. Everyone has a story. What’s mine? What’s yours?

Many of our local authors’ books can be found at Corner Drug in Driggs or online at Amazon.com.

Thomas L. Walsh grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, attending various Irish Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. After a stint with the U.S. Marine Corps and a thirty-five-year career with the 3M Company in Minnesota, he retired and moved with his wife to Driggs. Here, he returned to a love of writing first found in his university days. He started writing magazine articles and a column for the Idaho Falls Post Register, often irritating the conservative population of southeast Idaho with his left-leaning bent.

While on a visit to Ireland, Tom was inspired by the true story of an American military plane that crashed off the coast of neutral Ireland during World War II. He researched that incident, contacting and becoming friends with some who lived through it, and from that came his first book, Damnyankee: A WWII Story of Tragedy and Survival off the West of Ireland. His second book (published in 2014), The Sons of Joseph McGuire, is a novel that takes place in Belfast, Ireland, in the turbulent 1980s.

Earle F. Layser of Alta is another local author who took up writing after early retirement to the valley. He and his late wife Pattie moved to Alta after Pattie sold her art gallery in Bozeman, Montana. Pattie, who had a background in literature and English, became a freelance writer and Earle followed suit. The couple wrote magazine and newspaper articles, traveling the world to report on conservation issues in Central America, Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Ecuador, Galápagos, Alaska, and the Alps, including regular contributions to this magazine on international travel.

Earle and Pattie also wrote about local conservation and history, which led to Earle’s first book, the delightfully titled I Always Did Like Horses and Women: Enoch Cal Carrington’s Life Story. His latest book is Darkness Follows Light: A Memoir of Love, Place, and Bereavement, about his relationship with Pattie, who died in 2013. In her memory, Earle endowed the Pattie Layser Writer-in-Residence Program at the Murie Center in Grand Teton National Park.

Also a resident of Alta, LeAnn Bednar was a teller of great bedtime stories starring her six children. She started to write some of them down and also started an American Civil War novel, writing while the kids were at school and at night after they went to bed. Her first completed project took seven years and was a labor of love about her father, well-known Alta resident Chuck Christensen. About a year after his death in 2005, she started to write My Final Ride, the story of her dad’s journey on mules and horses on the Great Western Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada. LeAnn effectively captures her dad’s voice in this retelling of his trip, which he started just as he’d finished chemotherapy treatments for the cancer that would eventually take his life. The book is written as a trail journal from her dad’s perspective, but the writing is LeAnn’s: She used her dad’s cryptic trail journal entries as well as newspaper articles, TV interviews, and interviews with people who went along on parts of the trail with him.

LeAnn has recently started working on a second book about her dad and the surprising story of how he revived whaling in a small Eskimo village in Alaska.

Kelley Coburn, a pharmacist at Teton Valley Hospital, is from one of the old Teton Valley families. They started as sheepherders; later, Kelley’s dad, who likewise was a pharmacist, owned Corner Drug in Driggs. Kelley’s first book was a product of his love and knowledge of the outdoors. Inspired by a statement he read from a botanist that winter is the most dynamic time of year for plants, he decided to find out for himself and hiked up Table Rock every month for a year. He spent five years writing and illustrating The Trail to Table Mountain: A Location Based Guide to 186 Plants Found in the Teton/Yellowstone Region. It was a bestseller at Dark Horse Books, the popular Driggs bookstore that is no longer, in the summer of 2008, when it came out.

Kelley says he never thought he’d write a novel, but one day he was coming down the Madison River after watching wolves, and the thought crossed his mind, “What if wolves killed someone in Wyoming? How would people react?” It took him another five years to write his novel, Watching Wolves, a suspenseful story that incorporates the real-life controversy over wolf reintroduction in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Meredith Conner grew up and went to college in Minnesota, studied in China, and then lived in the Netherlands for a while before moving to Teton Valley. Before marriage and children, she was a group coordinator at Grand Targhee Resort and worked at a bank in Jackson. She also drove a dogsled in Dubois, Wyoming. She became a stay-at-home mom after her two daughters were born.

An avid reader of romance novels, it didn’t occur to Meredith to try writing them until she heard her husband say to a friend, “I don’t know why Meredith doesn’t write those books she reads.” A light went on. At home in Bates with two toddlers, she’d been feeling restless and wanted to do something for herself, something that didn’t involve potty training and naptime. She started writing, at first without telling anyone. She joined the Boise chapter of Romance Writers of America, and entered contests and sometimes won.

Meredith now has seven books available on Amazon. In spite of what the cartoony covers might suggest, her books are racy paranormal romances—very racy! She says her daughters will be allowed to read them when they’re forty years old (they’re ten and twelve now), and Meredith’s father is not allowed to read them ever. She loves having something that is hers and enjoys the self-publishing aspect of it.

Tom Davis, Teton County’s Building Official, worked in the shipyards of San Diego, as a logger on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, and for many years as a building contractor. Inspired by his mother, an avid reader, and by excellent teachers at his central Illinois high school, Tom began reading classics as a teenager, then novels, and later non-fiction, including books about mountaineering, Arctic exploration, and history.

Tom says he thinks he always secretly wanted to be a writer, and eventually he gave it a try, writing in any spare moment he could find. His book, The Keeper, finished in 2011, is a technically accurate story about a boy, his dog, and catching a big steelhead trout. It’s written for younger readers but appeals to a general audience with its vivid, evocative prose.

As an Air Force family, Barbara Boyle,,, her husband Nolan, and their eight children lived all the over the world, including Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 1996, Nolan retired from the Air Force and the family moved to Teton Valley, which was returning home for Nolan. Barbara grew up in Boise.

Barbara was a stay-at-home mom and enjoyed taking care of the family and volunteering in various positions in her church, but she had also always enjoyed writing. In her younger years, she worked as a detective’s secretary for campus security at BYU in Provo, Utah, sometimes going on stakeouts with the boss. She took an English class and wrote in a journal in essay form about her experiences. After moving to Teton Valley, when her younger children were in middle school, she returned to writing.

Barbara’s first book, The Return of Thomas Gunn, was inspired by a true story from her own family history. An ancestor who had joined the Mormon church went back to England to recover property and died on the voyage home. Nobody knows what happened to him or the money he presumably recovered. Her book is a speculative treatment of that family legend. She has also written the first two books in a young adult time-travel trilogy called Timesnatched: Pole Star and Southern Cross.