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Black Lining

In his first novel, Silver City author William Charland illuminates the dark side of Denver's tech boom

It's 1995 and Denver is humming. Telecommunications inventors and investors chase after fame and big bucks, all hoping to produce the "next big thing." Hawk Kidree, a mixed-race Nanticoke Indian, watches the scene with a skeptical eye. One night, Hawk has a vision: He watches the bright, neon sign of Telwest flicker out as the skyline of Denver is plunged into darkness. Before long, this "outsider" finds himself caught up in a mysterious complex of corporate forces.

This is the story — of a culture out of control and one man's journey to the other side of the darkness — told in Soundings, the new book by Silver City author William Charland (Wheatmark, $17.95).

Though Soundings is Charland's first novel, it is by no means his first book. He's published six works of nonfiction, all variations on a theme of building a meaningful life and finding rewarding work — including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Changing Careers, published by then-Alpha Books, a publishing company later purchased by McMillan.

With a doctorate in religion, a long career in outplacement and years of living in Denver, where he also wrote a careers column, Charland's foray into fiction seems a natural progression. His fictionalized version of the Mile High City provides the perfect setting through which to explore and expose the darker side of life, greed and ambition he'd observed from years of living there in real life.

Charland started writing Soundings about six years ago, while he and his wife, Phoebe, were living in Mexico. "I was looking back on my years in Denver from the perspective of another culture — one that moves much slower and cultivates some deeper human values," he says. "I probably would not have come up with the story had I not been in Mexico."

He'd found a publisher in Barbed Wire Press in Las Cruces, then run by George Stein, a one-time high-tech communications manager, who keyed right into Charland's description of Denver's "go-go" years. The plan was to bring the book out this year, but then Stein died of a sudden heart attack. Charland shopped around and decided to bring the book out himself through Tucson-based Wheatmark, a self-publishing and print-on-demand house that provides marketing support for its authors.

Truth may be stranger than fiction, as they say, but fiction is harder than research and relating facts, Charland says, something he did for years writing journalism (for the Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Examiner and many others) and in the world of academia.

"I find writing fiction much more challenging than anything else I've done," he says. "You have to listen for the story to emerge. It's almost given to you, like a dream."

He's written another novel, based on the closing of his South Dakota alma mater and the conversion of that campus to a prison. As in Soundings, he says, a good bit of that story is based in truth. He plans to bring that book out next year, also through Wheatmark.

Charland and his wife moved to Silver City from Denver four years ago — via Guadalajara, where they lived for the better part of a year and he taught English in a university. His wife, Phoebe, is from Tucumcari, so moving to New Mexico was a sort of homecoming for her. And Charland, having attended college in the little town of Yankton, SD, and having lived in other small towns, says he feels right at home in Silver City. Not quite ready to be completely retired, Charland works part-time, directing the honors program at WNMU.

Of Hawk Kidree, his main character in Soundings, Charland says, "I wanted a character to be 'in but not of' the world of high-tech mania such as I saw in Denver in the mid-1990s." He adds that his own quiet "outsider" quality often leaves him feeling outside social groups.

He also can relate to Hawk's vision. "I'm very attuned to visions, especially in my dream life," he says. "I think many Native American cultures have a sensitivity to this side of life that technologically driven cultures look past."

And Hawk Kidree is a good vehicle to give voice to Charland's observations on quality of life and personal character. "Most of all, I hope that readers will get involved in a story that invites a second look at our race to generate a constant round of new technology," Charland says. "Denver, during the time I wrote about, was obsessed with a new era in telecommunications. I've been struck by the figure of Joe Nacchio, ex-CEO of Qwest, who was seen as almost a messianic figure in Denver of the mid-90s. Now, of course, he's a convicted felon facing a long prison sentence.

"To some degree, I think we all fed off the excesses in the 1990s," he adds. "At some level, we were all Joe Nacchio, in his ambition and greed. I'd like to help readers take a second look at that facet of our culture and of ourselves."

— Donna Clayton Lawder

To order Soundings, visit www.wheatmark.com/bookstore or call (888) 934-0888, ext. 151.

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