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Howard Frank Mosher--No Stranger in the Kingdom

Howard Frank Mosher

This is how I learned about Howard Frank Mosher's death: On Sunday, I was walking down a long hallway in the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis during ABA's Winter Institute when a familiar voice called my name. I turned to see Jenny Lyons of the Vermont Bookshop in Middlebury. During the 1990s, we had worked together at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center. Jenny told me that Howard had died that morning.

Then Northshire's co-owner Chris Morrow suddenly appeared from around a corner and there we were, three Vermonters at a conference in Minnesota, talking quietly about a man we had all admired (and even better, genuinely liked) while some of the nearly 700 booksellers in attendance at Wi12 passed by us unaware of this brief, impromptu ceremony.

His death was not a shock. We knew Howard had been in hospice care. On both his personal and official Facebook pages recently, he had shared the sad news with friends and readers through a post that began, in classic understated Mosher style: "Well, the best laid plans, as they say."

I first met Howard in 1994, when he came to the Northshire for an event to launch Northern Borders. After that introduction, I knew I had some catching up to do and read Disappearances, Where the Rivers Flow North, Marie Blythe and A Stranger in the Kingdom. I've been one of his readers ever since. But more than that, I admired the guy. He was good people. As a native Vermonter, I was drawn to his stories about a part of "my" state he knew better than I did. Being a Vermont native also made me, by definition, a tougher audience, since Howard, who was originally from upstate New York, had to overcome my resistance to outsiders. He did.

Mosher reading at Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vt.

The outpouring of remembrances has been compelling. Vermont Public Radio featured "a celebration" of his life. Author Chris Bohjalian described him as "one of the most generous novelists I know." Don Bredes cited his willingness to "advocate energetically for an unpublished hopeful and promote the efforts of independent booksellers everywhere." Joshua Bodwell, executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, wrote: "New England is a little duller this week without Howard Frank Mosher’s brightness."

"Howard was a dear friend of the New England bookselling community," the New England Independent Booksellers Association's NEIBA News observed in a tribute that featured many other voices, including Claire Benedict of Bear Pond Books in Montpelier ("We will miss his smile, his charm, his unwavering love of the NEK and of course, his books."), Dick Hermans of Oblong Books & Music in Millerton, N.Y. (Howard was "a nearly perfect gentleman who wrote with fine style about what good writers must--the things that they know and experience in life."), and Richard Russo ("If we can somehow make it in the world without him, it'll be because he taught us how.").

In its e-newsletter yesterday, the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick wrote that Howard "was a customer of ours, usually calling in orders that we would mail to him at his home in Irasburg. When he called, he would be full of excitement to share a recommendation of a new author or book he'd discovered. The next time he called, he would ask, 'Did you have a chance to read (insert title here)?' Or he would have a funny story to share, maybe an interaction with a big-city publicist or a chain bookstore where he stopped for a reading. That story would be punctuated by a guffaw of laughter he just couldn't hold in, and you had to laugh when Howard laughed--the pleasure he took in telling these stories was infectious."

In 2015, when I interviewed Howard for a column highlighting his support of independent bookstores, he told me: "I don't think I've ever had an unpleasant experience at an indie bookstore." He spoke at length about the generosity, importance and dedication of indies; their crucial role in community building and how they "keep the culture going." He said he believed it would not have been possible to have his career as an author without the longtime support of indies.

I last saw Howard at NEIBA's fall trade show in September. His novel God's Kingdom had been a finalist for the New England Book Award, and in brief remarks at the awards dinner he offered his thanks to the booksellers "for all you've done for clueless scribblers like me and for millions of readers throughout New England. Thank you so much for everything you've done for constitutional rights."

Obituaries for children's authors often deploy the adjective "beloved," though you rarely see it for authors of adult books. But Northshire Bookstore co-founder Barbara Morrow used it in her piece for the store's e-newsletter yesterday, noting: "One of Vermont's most beloved and prolific authors was Howard Mosher, who--shockingly and sadly--died this past Sunday of cancer, surrounded by his family in his beloved Northeast Kingdom. He visited us just last fall, when he drove 3 1/2 hours each way to join the Northshire family to celebrate our 40th anniversary.... Howard Mosher was a Vermont treasure, and there is no better tribute to him than to get lost in one of his books depicting the world as he saw it. His new book, Points North, will be published in the coming months. Howard, we love you."

It's a good word, beloved, though Howard might have considered it a little over the top when applied to him. I'll use it anyway. Beloved Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher was a fine writer... and a good guy.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2930

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