Renowned Summit County artist publishes his first murder mystery
Don Weller will sign ‘Snap Chance’ at Dolly’s Bookstore on April 15 and Artique on May 19
Four years after publishing his memoir “Tracks,” award-winning Western painter Don Weller has put his hat in the storytelling ring with his first novel, “Snap Chance.”
The book, which Weller will sign at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 15, at Dolly’s Bookstore, and at 6 p.m. on May 19 at Artique, 283 N. Main St., in Kamas, is what he calls a “Modern Western murder mystery” that is filled with “bad behavior.”
“The truth is I started writing to see if I could write a novel,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could write a mystery that had murder, swearing and sex and violence. So when COVID-19 caused the galleries to close and slow down, and since I paint paintings faster than I sell them, I had some time to try it out.”
One of Weller’s main writing influences is his friend Shel Weinstein, whom the artist got to know in the mid-1970s.
“I met Shel when I did design work in Los Angeles,” Weller said. “We would go skiing every winter, and we explored a different ski resort every year.”
While they traveled, Weinstein would read his manuscripts to Weller.
“So, I would drive, he would read and we would ski,” Weller said with a laugh. “And I think that’s probably where I got interested in novels.”
Weller decided to show Weinstein a few chapters of what would eventually become “Snap Chance” for some constructive criticism.
“In high school I always got Ds in English, because I didn’t think cowboys needed English,” Weller said with a laugh. “So my craft really was terrible.”
Weinstein suggested Weller take a look at a book called “Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned,” a collection of intertwined tales by Walter Mosley, who is considered one of the nation’s best crime-fiction writers.
“It was a fabulous book, and Walter taught me something about crime writing,” Weller said.
Weller also sought out “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott and another Mosley book, “This Year You Write Your Novel,” both of which give instructions about how to write novels.
“I listened to those books during the summer when I would clean out the horse runs,” Weller said. “I would pick up horse poo and listen to Anne and Walter tell me how to write books. I pretty much memorized both books, and then Shel would send me things now and then that might help improve my writing.”
Weller had the most fun writing “Snap Chance” during its early stages.
“I would make up these characters,” he said. “Sometimes they were based on people I know, sometimes not. But as soon as I made the characters, they kind of did their own thing, and were unlike any of the people that I pictured or based them on.”
While 99% of the story is fiction, it has roots in real life, Weller said.
“I really was at a branding in the desert, and a man did walk down the road and I did talk to him,” he said. “He was an old man. He had a van up the road, and he was trying to walk across America. I didn’t remember how far he walked, but he was doing it in little bits and pieces.”
Weller decided to show his manuscript to Kristen Case, former editor of Park City Magazine.
“At first I was frightened to let people read it, because as Anne Lamott said, ‘You’re not writing this for your mother, so you just have to throw out all your inhibitions and morality and sense of everything,'” Weller said. “So I had been a bit embarrassed about it, but Kristen liked it.”
With that shot of encouragement, Weller showed the manuscript to his friend and Oakley City Council member Tom Smart, a retired Deseret News photo editor.
“Tom told me that I needed to edit the story and publish it,” Weller said.
Weller began editing it by following the lessons he learned from listening to Mosley and Lamott.
“They were always saying cut out the boring parts, so there were two that I pulled out,” Weller said.
One was about cutting horses, something Weller is passionate about.
“I am so addicted to cutting horses, so I really wrote a lot more than anyone wanted to know,” he said.
The other part Weller edited down was composed of experiences he’s had in his 84 years on the Earth.
“Once I started editing, I realized no one wants to know all of that, so I cut that way down,” he said.
Smart took the initiative and got the manuscript into the hands of Mary Dillon, an editor he knew, according to Weller.
“Mary read it and wasn’t offended by anything,” he said. “She said she liked it and edited once, and then edited again and again.”
Smart performed some editing as well as Smart’s former Deseret News colleague, Lee Benson, Weller said.
“As you can see, I’m spreading the blame around a little,” Weller said.
Weller is grateful to Dolly’s Bookstore and Artique for hosting the booksignings.
“Dolly’s has been the place you think about when you think about books while you’re in Park City,” he said. “It’s a landmark on Main Street. And Artique is such a nice place.”
Weller is working on a follow-up to “Snap Chance.”
“Some of the same characters, but they are in Hawaii,” he said. “There will be murder, but I haven’t killed them all, yet.”
The Park City Treble Makers have already booked their Christmas-concert season schedule.
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