Yesterday, I was reading The True Account: A Novel of the Lewis & Clark & Kinneson Expeditions, one of couple of Howard Frank Mosher novels I hadn’t yet gotten around to, when I received word that the author, and my dear friend, has entered hospice care with an aggressive, virtually untreatable form of cancer. And my heart just broke.
Howard, the closest thing America has ever had to Mark Twain, was already a favorite of mine when I wrote a glowing review of his 2014 novel, Waiting for Teddy Williams, for The Associated Press. He responded with a warm note of thanks, and a long-distance friendship was born. He and his sweet wife Phillis started corresponding with me sporadically, usually by email or on Facebook, often about our work.
Howard was always warm, gracious, and generous, writing several times with praise about my novels. As it turned out, he was also an admirer of my brilliant wife Patricia Smith’s poetry, able to recite lines of it from memory. So when she sought (successfully) a Guggenheim, Howard, a Guggenheim fellow himself, wrote an elegant letter in support of her application.
In July of 2013, Patricia and I made the long drive to Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom to visit with Howard and Phillis. During our two days at their rambling farmhouse, they were perfect hosts, treating us to a tour of the area, some excellent meals, and, best of all, two evenings of great conversation about storytelling, family, and the Boston Red Sox. Howard also spun some Northeast Kingdom lore which later showed up in one of his novels. Although it was the first time we had met face to face, those two days passed in such comfortable intimacy that it felt as if we had always been friends.
As we took our leave, the four of us agreed we would have to do this again. But, as tends to happens, life in the form of work and family intervened, and somehow we never got around to it making that long trip to the Northeast Kingdom again. Now Patricia and I are left with our memories and a shelf of great books that deserve to be read and reread forever.
If you don’t know Howard Frank Mosher’s wise and funny novels, do yourself a favor. Start with Waiting for Teddy Williams or Up On Kingdom Mountain, and if you treasure great writing and storytelling, you won’t be able to stop. Howard’s next and last, Points North, will be published later this year. For his friendship, his good humor, and the inspiration of his life’s work, I will always be grateful.