Determination, genes and icing on the page

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It’s not every day you can meet a New York Times bestselling author in North Idaho’s literary neck of the woods.

I first heard Delia Owens, author of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” was coming to Bonners Books when I stopped by in early May on a trip to Bonners Ferry. I bought the book, thinking if I liked it I’d try to go back at month’s end for the bookstore event. I more than liked it.

I nearly didn’t make it in the door. There were more people than anticipated that evening and the small space quickly filled. I had gulped a meal at a restaurant down the street and raced up the sidewalk to the venue. A sign in the entrance apologetically announced they were full.

I couldn’t take no for an answer.

Maybe it was telling the person in charge it was my birthday — absolute truth — that did it. Or that I had purchased the book at their store. Or that I had come “all the way from Priest River.”

I once found a letter in my mom’s keepsakes referring to my dad before they were a couple. He’d driven a college singing trio around the West one summer as part of a tour, mom being the soprano in the group. He managed to get out of a parking ticket and she’d written, “Mr. Shirk sure is a good talker.”

For better or worse I put my genetics to work.

It was an unforgettable evening. A fascinating account of how a number one bestseller came to be. Beginning in childhood when Delia’s mother had her outside in nature taking in the details. Urging her to go “way out yonder.” Parental genes at work there, too.

Delia continued her attachment to life on the fringe, living in remote areas of Africa studying animals — earning her doctorate in animal behavior. The females stuck together in those animal groups — which got her imagining a “what-if” scenario around an abandoned girl growing up alone in a wild setting, and how not having a group would affect her. The character of Kya, the Marsh Girl, was born.

Delia is leaving Bonners Ferry after over 20 years. My near miss turned into a score. I read up on her a little more after that night, and learned fans had lined around the block in Savannah, Georgia, to get books signed. Glad I found her in a quiet small town bookstore.

For my effort I left with an inscribed copy of “Where the Crawdads Sing.” She wrote, “Happy Birthday.” Icing on the page.

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