Since author Mark Leichliter moved to the Flathead Valley in 2013, he has regularly explored the area’s trails and landscape, and he often feels like he’s been living within the snow and fog for months at a time.
When he’s out running in the valley, he often thinks about how easy it would be to hide a crime in the overcast, low-visibility and often empty wilderness, which is where the inspiration for his latest novel, “The Other Side,” originated.
“I think this place started to work on my spirit and I started to understand how much the place contributed to the book,” Leichliter said. “It started with one of those ‘What if?’ questions.
The crime inspired by the foggy, mysterious landscape of the Flathead Valley is the disappearance of a 17-year-old Lakeside girl and an outcast detective working to solve her case.
In addition to the Flathead’s geography, Leichliter also highlights the valley’s socioeconomic diversity in the novel.
“She’s a Lakeside girl and part of a working-class family, and it’s also about a town that shows those divides,” Leichliter said. “In a lot of ways Lakeside is a town, but there’s also people that live here two months out of the year.”
As a former resident of Lakeside and a current resident of Bigfork, Leichliter says this is the first time he’s written about a place he’s presently living in, as he normally reflects back on places where he formerly resided.
“A lot of times I look backwards and try to make sense of a place later,” Leichliter said. “So that brings a fun dimension as well. The valley here is almost like a living character itself and it’s as much about the place as it is about the people. The place defines the nature of the crime.”
“The Other Side” marks Leichliter’s first crime novel. He has historically written literary novels, essays and poetry in his 30 years as a working author. Right now, he’s in the early stages of his next book, which will focus on human trafficking in Montana, particularly highlighting Indigenous women.
While Leichliter likes to write fast-paced and entertaining page-turners, he also researches his work to make it factually accurate and highlight real events.
“That’s what I want to do in the crime fiction I write, which is honoring families and victims and the real world behind the fiction,” Leichliter said. “There are some good novels that are using this larger subject and I think it’s an important way to bring the microscope to what is really happening.”
Before Leichliter transitioned to writing full-time, he taught English at Northern Colorado University for 17 years and still teaches at conferences, including the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. He also teaches continuing education courses and a memoir course at Flathead Valley Community College.
Leichliter’s previous work includes a short story collection called “Lost and Found” and a literary novel called “The Chameleon’s Shadow,” and he also works as a ghostwriter and editor.
“The Other Side” is available locally at The Bookshelf in Kalispell, Bookworks in Whitefish, Lake Baked Bakery and Bigfork Bay Gift and Gear.
For more information, visit www.markleichliter.com.
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