They say that the best writers draw from personal experience, and while Caleb Mannan certainly isn't an Okie from the early 20th century, the characters from his recently self-published novel, Bust It Like A Mule, spring from the pages as if they were old familiar friends of the Colville native.
Bust It tells the story of Cotton Kingfisher, the son of a "lousy cuss drunk" in Oklahoma who set out as a boy to make his way into the west, where he rides the rails and works across the Dakotas and the Pacific Northwest, leaving a trail of legend behind him as he goes along, defining the difference between a bum and a hobo who "chooses the life of a gypsy and earns his way through it..." Eventually, Cotton's travels take him to the Land Where The World Began and into the hometown of a "beer bottle pretty girl" named Jael, who forever alters the course of his wandering.
Told in the rambling voice of a drifter poet, Bust It Like a Mule is songlike in its spoken-word dialect and colloquial disinterest in grammatical propriety. Much like the hero of the story, Mannan's writing trudges along, winding through the emotions of the reader like so many mountain roads in Glacier National Park, which serves as the central setting for the unfolding of Cotton's fate. As the story develops, bits and pieces of northwest history are intertwined as Cotton moves through the Second World War and makes his way working seasonally for the Forest Service in Oregon and then Montana as a firefighter. Set against the backdrop of mountains, train cars and raging wildfires, Cotton Kingfisher battles local stigmas as well as his own baggage in the ultimate human quest to belong.