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Judge rules on murder case -- in his latest novel

Character building takes commitment. Just ask local author Mark Munger. Munger gets up every morning at 5 a.m., brews coffee, and sits down in front of his computer.

Mark and Harry Munger
Mark Munger (left), St. Louis County District Court judge, poses with his father, Harry Munger, in the lobby of the Teatro Zuccone, where Judge Munger hosted a book reading event to celebrate the release of his new book "Laman's River." An audience of about 70 was in attendance to hear Munger read from his new work of fiction and talk about what it takes to write a novel. (Photo by Thomas Vaughn)
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Character building takes commitment. Just ask local author Mark Munger. Munger gets up every morning at 5 a.m., brews coffee, and sits down in front of his computer.

From his home office overlooking the Cloquet River, Munger surmises what the characters in his books will do next. Then, he types out new scenarios and revises old ones. After his morning writing session, Munger leaves home for his regular job as a St. Louis County District Court Judge.

Recently, Munger hosted an evening book reading event in Duluth at the Teatro Zuccone. He talked about how the writing process works for him and read a few pages from his most recent release, "Laman's River." This work of fiction begins with a murder and takes readers from Grand Marais, down to Duluth, and off to the Montana mountains. Laman's River is Munger's seventh book.

Munger pointed out that writing Laman's River required him to move away from the more factual, reportage-style of writing he adhered to when he wrote "Mr. Environment," a biography of his late uncle Willard Munger, who as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives served what was formerly House District 7A from 1954 until 1999.

For Laman's River, Munger needed to reawaken his creative storytelling talents that he had drawn upon as a younger writer but had set aside during his work on Mr. Environment. Munger found this fresh creative pressure an invigorating challenge. He turned to research as a way to get fictional ideas percolating.

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"Learning is the most rewarding part of writing a work of fiction," said Munger, as he signed books for about 70 attendees just before the evening reading. "This book is a whole new departure in terms of topic and subject matter for me. It's a murder mystery, which is kind of fun, shorter, quicker, faster-paced, so learning about the things I needed to know to write the book was fascinating."

Harry Munger is Mark Munger's father. He supports his son's writing endeavors financially and also proofreads the books before they go public.

"I've enjoyed his books," said the elder Munger about his son's commitment to delivering a good read. "The knowledge that he acquires by research before his writes the books is commendable. It's hard to believe he can research all the different topics he's written about."

The evening included an on-stage interview led by Heidi Holtan, program director for KAXE (91.7) radio station, operating out of Grand Rapids. Holtan has known Munger for several years. She usually interviews him on the air when he publishes a new book.

"I've gotten to know Mark over the years through his writing since I host a weekly book program," said Holtan, whose station covers a big part of northern Minnesota. "We just talked last week about Laman's River. So, he asked me if I'd come and do a Q&A like we did for the radio and do it here live on stage."

Munger draws material for his fiction from research, but also from news stories and his everyday life. During the live interview with Holtan, Munger commented that he lets the characters develop as he writes and allows a feel for geographic location to drive the action, rather than creating a plot first.

With this approach to writing, Munger said he can carry the characters around in his mind during the day and think about how they might respond to real-life events that actually unfold, whether it's an experience on the job or witnessing how a deer runs across the road on

the way home from the office.

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Munger publishes his books through Cloquet River Press. Laman's River is available through the press website at www.cloquetriverpress.com or in local bookstores.

Munger interview
Heidi Holtan (left), program director for KAXE (91.7) in Grand Rapids, Minn., has interviewed Mark Munger on previous occasions during her weekly radio book program. Pictured above, she interviews Munger about his approach to writing at Teatro Zuccone.

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