There's something deep and powerful about the way a writer explores a place. For local Whitefish author Christine Carbo, her love of storytelling fits perfectly in the dramatic landscapes of Glacier National Park—a place with staggering beauty, complex characters and plenty of inspiration.
“I love western culture because of the intersections between rural communities and the wild,” says Carbo, author of four novels, most recently A Sharp Solitude (2018, Atria Books). Her work features brilliant depictions of place, most set in the towns and communities surrounding Glacier National Park. But her passion for suspense highlights a darker side of the rural communities, one that she says really digs into rural, western culture that she sees clearly, having lived in Montana since age 13.
“There is a depth below the beauty,” she explains. “I write suspense because I enjoy it, and it helps me tap into that depth. I like the challenge of using crime and violence as a vehicle to examine how the landscape shapes the darker side of Western culture, and how society intersects with the wild in that.”
Carbo’s work is vibrant and comes to life with poignant characters that carry energy through the story, which is always grounded in the sense of place that Carbo expertly conveys in her novels. She explains that it’s helpful for visitors who have read her work to identify more with the breadth of culture in the area around Glacier National Park, instead of just seeing the views as a postcard and going home.
“It can really build a relationship with place for tourists, when you read any novel that’s set in an area you are visiting or a place that you love," she says. "I think it can strengthen the connection for people visiting the park to read work that is based in the surrounding communities.”
Carbo began writing almost 15 years ago, shortly after earning a Masters in English and Linguistics at the University of Montana. At the time, she was teaching as an adjunct professor at Flathead Valley Community College, and she completed two novels that she never published.
Life changes meant that she focused more on raising her son after going through a divorce, and Carbo began working as a technical writer. “I just set writing aside for 10 years,” she explains. “I even told a friend that I was done with writing.” But when she eventually came back to it, writing felt different.
“Writing had changed a bit—the tactics were different because you could just email an agent to query. The shift in technology made querying agents easier,” Carbo says
Also, her writing changed as well. “I wanted to write what I liked to read, and that was suspense,” she says. “I started writing again and I wrote my novel The Wild Inside in a year, and I thought I must have lied when I told my friend I was done with writing because I came back to it with more resilience and I had more strength to press on than when I was younger.”
“My passion for writing returned even more forcefully than before. I felt like I had to write,” Carbo says when describing how she came back to writing novels. “Plus, I could write what I really wanted to, in my own style. I became good at it by doing it in a way that made sense to me, not following someone else’s prescriptions, or really—what I thought I should write about, which happened when I was younger as I tried to learn how to compose a novel.”
Carbo is very close to the local community and is an involved artist in the area. She explains that people visiting Glacier National Park can make a positive impact on the writing and artistic community by supporting local events, shopping in the small towns around the park, and purchasing books or artwork at local stores.
“There is such a vibrant artistic and writing community here,” Carbo says, which makes sense to her because of the beauty of the area. “It’s so inspiring to be near the crown of the continent. When you’re walking through Glacier National Park or the Bob Marshall Wilderness, you’re looking out at the glory of it all, and it just strips you of all the superficial stuff. You see what’s real in that moment, what your real fears are, and what’s important to you, and that’s really good for artists of all kinds.”
Carbo’s passion for place is evident in her novels, featuring a creatively intertwined sense of atmosphere and suspense. She says, “I love writing about crime, solving crime, and exploring when crime butts up against the wilderness. Because in the city, there is often only a human element with rules imposed by society, but in Montana, we can really focus on the impact of the landscape—an often imposing landscape—on the community and its characters, and ultimately, the story.”
Carbo’s work combines the culture of Montana with the dramatic landscape, providing a closer perspective of the communities near Glacier National Park.
To learn more about Christine Carbo and her work, visit christinecarbo.com.
Carbo has a few handy tips if you're keen to connect with local artists, writers and artisans in Montana.