Colorado Matters at the Tattered: Novelist Peter Heller on darkness and light

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<p>Author Peter Heller (right) talks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner at the Tattered Cover Book Store on Colfax in Denver.</p>

Denver author Peter Heller's gripping new novel "The Painter" is about an artist, Jim Stegner, who moves to Paonia for a fresh start.

The novel, now out in paperback, tell how Stegner is a recovering alcoholic, his marriage has fallen apart, he's been in prison and he's lost a child.

"He's a guy that has a huge, generous soul and a good heart, but often finds himself in trouble," Heller says.

Heller based Stegner's character on a friend, the famous New Mexico artist Jim Wagner. A painful event from Wagner's life is depicted in the opening pages. Stegner, as did Wagner, shot a man in a bar who made a lewd comment about his child, Heller says.

The shooting behind him, Heller's character Stegner looks forward to a life of painting and flyfishing in Colorado's North Fork Valley. But more trouble is in store.

Photo: The Fog Warning by Winslow Homer

Heller weaves real-life art into the novel. As a young man, the character, Stegner, stumbles into an art museum after a street fight. Inside, he sees Winslow Homer's 1885 painting "The Fog Warning." Stegner is so entranced by the image, he decides to become a painter.

"The Painter" is Heller's second novel. His first, "The Dog Stars," is being turned into a movie.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this story ran on May 14, 2014. It was updated for the release of the paperback version of the book.