by Sheri Boggs

Mining is a grubby, grueling business. The miner works in the sooty dark, arms sore from the swinging pull of the pickaxe, eyes straining for the sudden, startling ribbon of precious ore. While it might seem like an enormous stretch to compare the craft of writing to mining -- writing, unlike mining, is physically comfortable to the point of being, well, cushy -- there is still a certain grubby element to writing in spite of its romantic allure. The writer often flails around in the mental darkness of sentence fragments, memory and half-baked ideas for hours, days, weeks, hoping to hit creative pay dirt. Sometimes it comes. More often than not, it doesn't. But that doesn't stop the writer from returning to the mine.

That sense of being drawn back time and time again to the challenges and rewards of the written word is something the writers of Mother Lode, an afternoon with some of Idaho's most promising women writers, know all too well.

"The writers and I were trying to come up with a good name for this," says Christine Holbert, founder of Lost Horse Press and the driving force behind Mother Lode. She adds that it was writer Susan D'Aoust's husband who suggested the name, which was unanimously accepted by the group. "It is a mining term, but we liked it because of the mother connection, of course, with all of us being women, and also because of the connotations to what used to go on in this area."

Combining literature, music (duo Rex James) and a potluck, the event looks to be as low-key and relaxing as an afternoon by the lake, which, it turns out, it will be. The venue, Oden Hall, is a restored Grange Hall right on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille.

"It's this gorgeous and quaint little building from around the turn of the century," says Holbert. "It has a stage with a curtain at one end, a wood stove, a little kitchen. It's the home base for a group of women here in Sandpoint called the Oden Busy Bees. It's a group that's been in existence since the 1930s, and I'm one of them now. They don't use the hall very often, and I think it will lend itself to this kind of event really well."

The writers scheduled include both relative beginners and bona fide literary success stories. Kim Barnes, author of In the Wilderness and Hungry for the World, is currently working on her third book, based on her life in Idaho. Her first, In the Wilderness, chronicled her childhood in the remote corners of Idaho's Clearwater National Forest and was honored with a PEN/Jerard Fund Award, a finalist recognition for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, and a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) Award. Hungry for the World, also highly lauded by critics, details her coming of age in Lewiston in the late-1970s.

Claire Davis has had work published in such literary magazines as Shenandoah, Ploughshares, and Gettysburg Review. Her novel, Winter Range, takes place in rural Montana and won a PNBA best fiction award. Her short story "Labors of the Heart" was also selected for Best American Short Stories 2001.

In addition to Barnes and Davis, who come from outside the area, the event features a strong contingent of writers from the Sandpoint area, including Marianne Love, Rory Metcalf, Rhoda Sanford, Susan Saxton D'Aoust, and Karen Seashore, who won The Inlander's short-fiction contest last winter.

"Sandpoint offers a nice sense of community. It's not cutthroat or competitive, which I really like," says Seashore, who is also actively involved in Sandpoint's open mike for writers, "Five Minutes of Fame," which takes place the first Wednesday of each month at DeLuna's on Cedar Street. "Everybody's really supportive and it's fantastic to have Christine Holbert here. I think it's really brought the literary scene to the next level."

In fact, Holbert is already planning a few more literary soirees for late summer and early fall, including a poetry night and a literary paddle. "We're planning a paddle for Sept. 1, where we take kayaks out on the lake to this little island, where we'll hear Jane Fritz tell tales and legends of Lake Pend Oreille," says Holbert. "There's a full moon that night, and I think it's going to be just spectacular."

Mother Lode, a gathering of contemporary women writers of Idaho, takes place at

Oden Hall, 143 Sunnyside Road, Sandpoint, Idaho, on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 3 pm.

Cost: Free, but bring a potluck dish.

Call: (208) 255-4410.

Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10
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