Silver City author M. John Fayhee goes on tour
with two books at once.
by Donna Clayton Walter
Pull up a chair and sit a spell. M John Fayhee would like to tell you a thing or two.
Actually, quite literally two, as the Silver City-based author has just had published two books at once — The Colorado Mountain Companion, a uniquely engaging collection of "useful miscellany from the highest parts of the highest state," as the subtitle tells us, and Smoke Signals: wayward journeys through the old heart of the new west, a rollicking compilation of poignant and humorous columns from The Mountain Gazette, the magazine for which he is editor and at one time owned.
One sturdy, outdoorsy guy with a mountainman-esque beard, Fayhee scratches his head of unruly hair and goes into the saga of why his ninth and tenth books were published simultaneously.
"It wasn't planned this way," he begins. "Smoke Signals was planned for this September's release from the get-go, to coincide with Mountain Gazette's 40th anniversary."
Fayhee co-owned the magazine for six years, then sold it in 2006 with an agreement to stay on for a spell as "editor-at-large." The Gazette has been sold twice more since. While Fayhee thought he was giving up the reins, easing out when a new editor was hired, one of the journal's new owners made Fayhee's return to the editor's chair a condition of the sale. Fayhee accepted and has directed, shaped and written for every issue since. So with that hand-in-glove connection, getting Smoke Signals out to dovetail with the Mountain Gazette's anniversary celebration was a no-brainer.
But The Colorado Mountain Companion was a different story, Fayhee says with more than a trace of frustration in his voice. Known for his colorful use of language — his Mountain Gazette columns, after all, appeal to snowboarders and ski bums who often read him whilst throwing back a few beers — Fayhee describes the experience as something like pure, um, balderdash.
"It should have been out last year. Then it should have been out this past spring," he says. He came to find out that the publisher was selling the company, and "my book fell between the cracks. It shouldn't have been and it was damned stressful." On the upside, the publishing house was sold to an imprint of Ingram, "a monster publisher," Fayhee says with a smile. Making his unhappiness known to the new owner, Fayhee adds the happy ending — "To their credit, they got it done" in just a matter of months.
Thank heaven they did. The Colorado Mountain Companion is the kind of factual yet entertaining book that goes, well, all over the map — the map of the Centennial State, that is. Fayhee's "baseline knowledge" came from living in Colorado for 27 years — he's been on 27 of the state's "14-ers," he says, mountains that are 14,000 feet or taller. Then there came two solid years of stringent research, obtaining and validating facts and figures and the like.
What has resulted is a book one might keep on the bedside table, to be pulled out for a chapter or two before nodding off, finding out one neat fact after another. And while it is a fact-filled tome, it is far from dry. The reader is pulled along by Fayhee's relentlessly engaging narrative voice and the way he juxtaposes topics. This is a writer who can make interesting such subjects as Colorado's license plate numbering system and the state's area code history. Not written with as jocular a voice as his Smoke Signals essays, The Companion still entertains with a style that is somewhat tongue-in-cheek or "folksy."
Fayhee writes in the section on Highest State Capitals, "Many people mistakenly believe that Denver — the world-famous Mile High City — is the highest state capital in the United States. Well, it's not even second. It is third." Santa Fe, NM, at an elevation of 6,986 feet, is the country's highest state capital; Cheyenne, Wyo., believe it or not, is second at 6,067 feet.
If readers find themselves smacking themselves in the forehead in disbelief, they are in good company. Fayhee says he was surprised at how much he did not know about the state where he spent nearly half his life. He points to the book's four short geology sections — things that people who've lived in the state all their lives might not know, like the fact that there were once mountains in the state higher than what exist now, something intriguing that is known as "The Aspen Anomaly," and that the Rio Grande Rift Valley is the second-largest in the world. "In the world!" Fayhee repeats for emphasis.
Adding humor, there are sections like "Mountainspeak: Skiing Lexicon," giving the "official" definition of such terms as "shredding the gnar-gnar," and other phrases commonly used by hardcore mountain recreationalists. Close on the heels — or perhaps knees — of that entry is a list of the Most Common Mountain Recreational Injuries.
Nailing down accurate stats for the book was no easy matter, Fayhee says.
"I mean, you want to know what town is the highest? This will get you into a fistfight in some bars," he says with a laugh. "What town is the coldest? There are no set ways to measure these things, so sometimes it depends on where you're from as to what you believe." He says these hotly debated points add "good-natured stuff to the mix" of the information he compiled for the book.
If Fayhee's style in his Colorado book sounds a bit like a man dishing out interesting tidbits from a barstool, Smoke Signals takes that image even further. In fact, Fayhee says, he chose the 22 chapters from among his 70-plus Mountain Gazette columns as the ones that focused on stories "that began with me and a beer and a campfire."
He details the painstaking process of culling a sentence here, a paragraph there, from the many versions he writes in the process of creating each column, some of which would run to 20,000 words, to craft the chapters in the book. Thus, none of the stories in Smoke Signals is like the tightly formatted column published in the magazine. Fayhee says he then got feedback from his friends as to which stories worked from a "storytelling" sort of feeling, which ones evoked emotions or thoughts — which ones sounded most like he was just speaking from his barstool.
Proud of the result, Fayhee says the greatest compliment he got from one friend, a saloon owner, was that she could hear his voice in her head as she read the words.
Silver City locals will have the chance to sit on a barstool of their own — or at a table, if they prefer — when Fayhee returns to his current hometown for a booksigning at Diane's Restaurant, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. For sure, you count on a couple of things — that Fayhee will be entertaining and that he'll likely knock down a beer or two once his authorly duties are fulfilled.
Donna Clayton Walter has been happy to let John Fayhee
bend her ear while he bends his elbow at his favorite Silver City watering holes.
Local co-ops support World Food Day.
Before 2012 runs out, the Silver City Food Co-op and Mountain View Market in Las Cruces would like you to know that this is the International Year of Cooperatives. October is the perfect month for such a reminder, as Oct. 16 is World Food Day — and this year's official theme is "Agricultural cooperatives: key to feeding the world." Both designations come from the United Nations, with World Food Day being sponsored by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.