Discovering writer Howard Frank Mosher’s work is a revelation. That his novels and his short stories are so good. That he is not more widely read and appreciated. That his work stretches back 40 years.

That is not to say the late author doesn’t have countless, passionate fans – especially among writers at the top of the game – Richard Russo, Stephen King and Chris Bohjalian, to name just a few. He has been compared to Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Jim Harrison and other American greats for his bountiful gifts as a storyteller. “There isn’t anybody who is more a natural a storyteller than Mosher,” says Russo. Even so, Mosher was often dismissed as a regional writer, because all of his stories have their roots deep in the Northeast Kingdom in northern Vermont. “So be it,” he declared.

Mosher’s last book, “Points North,” appeared last month, almost a year after he died of cancer. Like his earliest writing, it is a collection of short stories. Mosher’s first published work, “Disappearances,” was actually a novel, but he’d previously submitted a collection of stories to several publishers who told his agent they’d consider the stories if he’d first produce a novel. Both first and last collections showcase Mosher’s prowess as a storyteller, capturing the unique milieu and richness of characters who inhabited the Northeast Kingdom, his adopted homeland.

From his first story to his last, Mosher owned the Kingdom, which sits hard on the Canadian border. The heart of his storied world revolved around the fictional country of Kingdom County, in much the way that many of Faulkner’s stories were set in his fabled Yoknapatawpha County. Mosher’s fictional world, like Twain’s, was filled with rascals and thieves, widows and salt-of-the-earth souls, moonshiners and whisky smugglers, racial bigots and highly principled individuals, coming-of-age tales and wild adventures, love stories and tragedies. Mosher wrote 10 novels, two collections of stories and two memoirs. Of his 14 books, 10 are dedicated to his wife, Phillis, whom he met the first day of high school in tiny, rural Cato, New York. “I was sitting in my homeroom when I looked up and noticed, coming through the door, arms laded with books, a pretty slender strawberry blonde with the sweetest smile I’d ever seen,” he wrote in his first memoir, “North Country.” After graduating from Syracuse University together, he and Phillis Claycomb were married, and the next day they drove to northern Vermont to interview for teaching jobs. Mosher anticipated staying only a couple of years before going on to graduate school. They did go Burlington, where he got his masters, but came back. They left again to go to the University of California-Irvine so he could attend its MFA program in creative writing, “desperate to find a shortcut to learning how to write a good novel.” But they turned around before unpacking their bags to head back to the Northeast Kingdom.

In “North Country,” he describes the Northeast Kingdom as “a remote enclave of narrow glacial lakes and north-running rivers, thickly forested granite mountains, half-forgotten hamlets and high hill farms, home to some of the most fiercely independent Yankee and French Canadian individualists left on earth.” It was from his students that he first heard stories about the inhabitants of the Kingdom, stories about their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. “Back in 1964, when I first came to the Northeast Kingdom, I felt like a gold miner who had hit a mother lode,” he was quoted saying in the Atlantic.

In his first collection of stories, Mosher requisitioned the heart of a story he heard from his first landlady for “Burl,” a tale about a 13-year-old girl up in a hollow who was sold by her father to a neighbor for a cord of wood. She then went on to save her husband’s farm by making moonshine. She eventually finds happiness after her husband dies by marrying the federal revenuer who had caught her red-handed years before, but taking sympathy on her, had let her go. Mosher embellished another story about a wily Kingdom woman who let it be known that she might know something about a recent bank robbery, and that the money could possibly be found buried beneath a mountain of manure behind her barn. The cops showed up in the middle of the night with heavy equipment and moved the pile to get to the bottom of things. No money was found. But the woman did get her manure pile moved.

Howard Frank Mosher referred to himself as a “midlist writer,” one of the legions of writers who inhabit the middle girth of a publisher’s list of authors who manage to be profitably published but never achieve breakout status. Setting up a cross-country book tour that he chronicles in his memoir, “The Great Northern Express,” an independent bookstore owner queries when he calls, “Harold who?” Throughout the account of the tour, Mosher good-naturedly refers to himself as “Harold Who.”

“Points North” is not a swan song but a love letter to the cast of characters he peopled his stories with and readers who came to relish them. His love for his characters, even the dastardly and the dark-spirited, is one of his hallmarks as a writer. He fills them with pathos and good humor, recklessness and determination, epic shortcomings and deep compassion.

Mosher writes in his first memoir that “all my life disappearances haunted me.” Between first grade and his first year of high school, his family moved 10 times as his father migrated from one teaching job and superintendent’s position to the next. The opening line to his second memoir states, “My first home was a ghost town.” Chichester was a mill town in the Catskill Mountains that withered away when the local mill went bankrupt. When Mosher asked what could be done about it, his father’s best friend remarked that he should write their stories down to preserve them.

It is perhaps telling that Mosher’s favorite writer was Charles Dickens, a consummate storyteller whose personal and fictional worlds were filled with disappearances, his stories populated with more than 300 orphans, according to Tim Parks’ “The Novel: a Survival Skill.” Mosher’s stories, too, are chock-full of orphans, runaways, and displaced and farmed-out children.

After a decade as a teacher and a social worker, Mosher was encouraged by his wife to take the leap to writing full time. “Disappearances,” his first novel, is a sprawling story of Quebec Bill Bonhomme, a larger-than-life scrapper who decides to smuggle liquor down from Canada during Prohibition with the intention of saving his failing family farm. The story is rambling and filled with magical realism, an attempt by Mosher, one might surmise, to write the Great American novel. But the characters are indelibly memorable, with plot twists thickly nested like snakes. He referred to the story as “wild and woolly.” Wallace Stegner, his good friend and the director of the Stanford Creative Writing Program, who had a nearby summer place, didn’t care for it. The headline over the review of “Disappearances” in the Montreal Gazette declared, “Vermont Writer Should Disappear.”

It was followed by “Where the Rivers Flow North,” his first short story collection. The stories were more sharply focused, a style that distinguished his later writing. He followed that with another big, loose-limbed novel, “Marie Blythe,” based on stories Mosher’s grandfather told of his mother, a young Irish lass who came to America with little more than her ambitions. “Marie Blythe” tells the story of a young, indomitable French Canadian girl who shows up in the Kingdom and forges a heroic life against long odds.

Following his next book, a memoir, Mosher hit one out of the park with his novel “A Stranger in the Kingdom.” It was based on real events in Irasburg, Vermont, where he and Phillis moved to raise their two children, but was set in fictional Kingdom Common, a Vermont hill town at the center of numerous other novels to follow. In July 1968, the home of a black minister in Irasburg had its windows blown out by drunken nightriders. The minister was subsequently accused of committing adultery with a white woman and driven out of town. In “A Stranger in the Kingdom,” the minister is put on trial for the murder of a young white runaway girl. The heart of the story is a courtroom drama that resonates with the tenor of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

A passage in his next novel, “The Fall of the Year,” which is autobiographical, offers a powerfully prescient exchange pinpointing the arc of Mosher’s career. It is a coming-of-age story about young Frank Bennett, who is adopted and raised by Father George, a decent but unsaintly priest and a great uncle by marriage. The priest tells Frank “… there’s a novel in Kingdom County if you can find it. Hell, there are 10 novels. Someday you’ll write them, if you go with the pitch God threw you.”

Tales of the long heritage of the Kinneson clan, as far back as the mid-1700s, are strung all through Mosher’s stories. The Kinnesons, Mosher once stated, had their fictional roots in his own family. The central constellation of Kinnesons is the family of Charles, publisher of the Kingdom County Monitor; Ruth, his wife; and their two sons, Charlie and Jimmy. Their story begins in “God’s Kingdom,” a tender, insightful coming-of-age story of young Jimmy, and is advanced in the earlier-published “A Stranger in the Kingdom,” where Charlie is now the young lawyer who defends the black minister, the Rev. Walter Andrews, against accusations of having had sex with and then killed a runaway girl.

Mosher’s own favorite book – and that of many readers, including me – was “Northern Borders.” It is the story of Austen Kittredge III, age 6, who goes to live with his grandparents after his mother dies. The story has roots in Mosher being sent to live with his grandparents for a time when he was a small boy while his father was off teaching and his mother and brother remained at home. Austen’s grandparents are beyond eccentric. His grandfather refers to himself as “the meanest old bastard in Kingdom County.” His grandmother, wholly smitten with all things Egyptian, christens young Austen “Tut.” His grandparents rarely speak directly to one another, but only through Austen/Tut. Ancient history from their courting days clouds every interaction.

The end of the book tells of a canoe trip that Austen and his grandfather take into the “terra incognito” along the Quebec-Labrador border after Tut’s grandmother dies and Tut graduates from high school. It was into this country his grandfather had traipsed as a young survey crewman, where he fell in love with a native woman. The canoe trip is a mission his grandfather feels compelled to take to rescue and preserve the memory of his first love against the rising waters of a new hydroelectric dam. It is a story of epic, mythical proportions.

In addition to the Kinnesons, Mosher weaves the story of the Rev. Pliny Templeton through several novels, and closes the circle in the two concluding short stories in “Points North.” Pliny came to Kingdom Common as a fugitive slave via the Underground Railroad, and was taken in and sponsored by Jimmy and Charlie’s great grandfather. Pliny goes to college and the seminary, then returns to Kingdom Common to build the four-story stone Academy where local children are educated. After he dies, his skeleton is hung in the science lab, his skull exhibiting the mysterious bullet holes that ended his life. The mystery of his death proves central to “Strangers in the Kingdom,” and is detailed at length in the short story “What Pliny Knew” in “Points North.” The last story in the collection brings a fitting and moving close to the grief caused by a loss that Templeton suffered so long ago.

Stephen King described Mosher’s work as “full of hilarity and heartbreak.” Chris Bohjalian considered Mosher his literary godfather, writing, “I view him as a beautiful stylist who found the universalities of the human condition in the idiosyncrasies of Vermont.” Bohjalian dedicated one of his early novels to Mosher.

Beyond much acclaim from other writers, many awards also recognized Mosher’s talents, including a Governor’s Award for Excellence, a National Endowment of the Arts Award and a New England Book Award for fiction. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Four of his books were made into movies.

In “Points North,” Mosher also brings closure to earlier stories, most significantly to the adult lives of Charles and Jim Kinneson. In one story, the two brothers are old men, fishing together on one of their favorite streams. The tone is bittersweet for their realization of what has changed, been lost – disappeared – in the Northeast Kingdom since they were boys.

Mosher began to feel poorly in December 2016 while working to finish the collection. He thought he had a virus, or perhaps pneumonia. He went to his doctor, who ran tests and took x-rays. “Howard, this is terrible news,” his doctor told him. Cancer had metastasized throughout his body. He was told he had only days to live.

Howard Frank Mosher went home and did what he’d done most of his life. He sat down and wrote. “For eight days and nights, he wrote to finish the book,” Phyllis Mosher said.

Mosher posted an announcement of his pending death and a self-written obituary on his blog on Jan. 23, 2017. He told his legion of friends and fans, “I am happy to leave you all with a gift of what may be my best book in ‘Points North.’ Enjoy it with my compliments.”

Mosher died at age 74 on Jan. 29.

According to his widow, Howard Frank Mosher never wanted to be known locally as “the writer. He preferred being the guy who lived in this house.” Mosher gave his life to making Irasburg/Kingdom Common the place where he had deep and fond roots. By all accounts, he was a good neighbor and good friend. And an American treasure.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was named a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction in 2014 by “Shelf Unbound,” an international review magazine. His novel was also a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created by best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver “in support of a literature of social change.” Smith can be reached via his website:

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