Exploring his imagination

Minnesota author Thomas Maltman says his wife is his trusted reader, and that has been true for his first two novels.

“When she tells me I’m on to something, I know I have a story or project worth pursuing,” he said. “I think all writers need such trusted friends and voices in the early stages.”

Maltman, author of “The Night Birds” and “Little Wolves,” will have a reading at 7 p.m. Monday in Charter Hall 201 at Southwest Minnesota State University.

His essays, poetry and fiction have been published in several literary journals. “The Night Birds” has won an Alex Award, a Spur Award, a Friends of American Writers Literary Award and was also chosen as an “Outstanding Book for the College Bound” by the American Library Association. He has taught for the last four years at Normandale Community College.

Maltman said that he always planned to write “The Night Birds,” even before he started teaching at an area high school.

The summer before he started teaching at Cedar Mountain High School in Morgan, Maltman did a preliminary draft of “The Night Birds.”

“I showed it to my wife, and she said ‘I think you have something there,'” Maltman said. He taught for a year at Cedar Mountain. Maltman went on to receive his master of fine arts degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato where he wrote most of “The Night Birds.”

Maltman said he tells people he married into Minnesota, and he didn’t grow up with the history of the Dakota Conflict. But he was always fascinated by history and growing up in a military family and moving to different places, he wanted to learn the history of that place.

“I really felt like the story was calling to me,” Maltman said.

“The Night Birds” is the story of three generations of German immigrants to the Midwest, their clashes with slaveholders, the Dakota Conflict and its aftermath – as seen by a 14-year-old boy named Asa. It mostly takes place in southern Minnesota.

“Little Wolves” came out in January and is based on the frame of a true story that Maltman heard about for years.

“It’s really more of a murder mystery,” he said. “It’s a ‘whydunit.'”

The novel’s setting is the Minnesota prairie in the late 1980s during a drought that’s affecting family farms. It tells the intertwining stories of a father looking for answers after his son commits murder, and a pastor’s wife who has returned to town.

“One morning I woke up with the voice of the father whose son has done something terrible and struggling to find out why,” Maltman said.

As he was writing “Little Wolves,” Maltman said he avoided finding out about the actual story as it had come to him as a legend.

“I wanted to explore it though the imagination,” he said. In that legend, there was an emotional truth that was passed along, he said, and that’s what drew him in.

Because he teaches full time and is a husband and father, Maltman said it can be hard to find time to write. When he does, he’ll enter his office, close the door and put on classical music.

“Before I check e-mail, I let myself write for an hour,” he said.

In researching his novels, Maltman advised getting as close as you can to primary records, settler records. He also gathered archives as he went from town to town that are featured in “The Night Birds,” laid down in the tall grass in the Birch Coulee, gaining a sense of what it’s like to be alive back then.

Maltman said he’s working on a third novel with the tentative title of “The Last Dauphin,” which is set during the French Revolution. When King Charles the XVII and Marie Antoinette were executed, their son had died in prison.

“There were rumors he didn’t die in prison,” Maltman said.

One of the rumors was that the son escaped to America and lived among the Indians, Maltman said. He said he’s fascinated with stories where fairy tales intersect with dark reality.

“It’s the question of what might have happened that fascinates me,” he said. “This is where the imagination comes in, offering a possibility for light. Might the Dauphin have escaped to America instead of dying in jail? What would have happened then? This is what fiction can do.”

Maltman said that he’s glad about having a second novel out and early reviews have been good. “Little Wolves” was chosen as an Amazon Book of the Month.

“I’ve been pleased with the feedback and response so far,” he said.