Hardworking musician Korby Lenker writes music and songs every day. He plays about 200 dates a year around the country, driving from gig to gig from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
He’s seen a lot of miles and a lot of life that way. He got in the habit of writing down things he observed into short stories, a hobby he practiced over the past decade. It was a casual thing, but now those stories are taking this Twin Falls native in a new direction — from singer/songwriter to published author.
“I work really hard at music, so it’s strange that this other thing just fell into my lap,” Lenker says. “It’s not something I talk about with my writer friends. It seems like I just waltzed into it.”
Lenker will read from “Medium Hero,” and play a few tunes, on Thursday, Jan. 21, at Rediscovered Books.
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Lenker grew up more of a book nerd than a musician.
“I was always reading as a kid. I’ve always been more comfortable talking about books than music,” he says.
Even so, he had a band in high school called Clockwork Orange that played everything from Mormon stake dances to community events throughout the Magic Valley. He continued pursuing his musical ambitions at Western Washington University in Bellingham but majored in the history of philosophy. He minored in music.
“It was an intense writing program,” he says. “Every week, we had to write something. It was an invaluable education in critical thinking, and it’s largely responsible for this book.”
Lenker moved to Nashville nine years ago to work in that city’s thriving music community. Lenker lingers on the pop/folk side of music — think Todd Snider meets Jason Mraz, with a little Josh Ritter on the side. And while his music career rocked, Lenker kept writing his stories.
He wrote from his Nashville apartment, at local watering holes and on the road in greenrooms between sets. He posted them on Facebook for his friends to enjoy. Eventually, he self-published 30 stories into a book and started selling it at his shows.
Last year, Lenker played at an annual Nashville event produced by Turner Publishing called The Porch, a mashup between writers and musicians. He opened for “A Tale of Two Tims,” featuring National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien (“Going After Cacciato,” “The Things They Carried”) and Grammy-winning bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien (“The Earls of Leicester”).
That night, Turner acquisitions editor Stephanie Beard picked up Lenker’s book. She read it the following weekend and loved it. Turner doesn’t usually publish short stories, she says, but this hit at the right time as the company sought to change its approach and image.
Three weeks later, Lenker had a deal.
It’s really unusual for us to move that fast, but it was a moment we didn’t want to miss.
Stephanie Beard, acquisitions editor for Turner Publishing
“This has been one of the more interesting, fun and engaging projects we have,” Beard says. “He represents what’s cool about Nashville: independent, quirky, creative people who’ve moved to this very interesting place. Some of the stories are funny; others are sad and touching. There’s always more to someone’s story, and that’s what Korby is about.”
Lenker’s stories come out of musical moments, he says. They focus on extraordinary aspects of everyday life, such as “Bird Crush,” a story in which a man goes on his regular neighborhood jog, and a small event turns out to be life-changing.
“That story is characteristic of how I see things,” Lenker says. “You never know when something significant will happen.”
Some are inspired by actual experiences, others are simply his imaginings, but “they’re all true in a way,” he says. “My job afforded me the time to meet all kinds of people. When I’m on the road, I’m in the thick of it.”
Writing stories also gave him a break from the music, but that’s changing.
“The writing is an antidote to songwriting, and vice versa,” Lenker says. “The job I’m doing at the time is the thing I don’t want to do. I’m an avoider at heart.”
Being an amateur author, the stories came easy, he says.
“I wrote them with this sort of whimsical freedom that I hope doesn’t change now that I’m published. I wonder if the writing gets harder, will songwriting get easier?”
Lenker is now on a national book and music tour with stops in Boise and Sun Valley. While he’s in Boise, he will teach a master class for music students at his childhood buddy Ryan Peck’s Boise Rock School.
Lenker is working on a novel and a new album.
Korby Lenker readings
▪ 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, Rediscovered Books, 150 N. 8th St. in Downtown Boise. Free.
▪ 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, Iconoclast Books, 671 Sun Valley Road, Ketchum. Free.
More upcoming literary events
▪ Bestselling author Ridley Pearson will be this year’s keynote speaker for the Learning Lab’s Lunch for Literacy. He’s known for his suspense novels, including the Walt Fleming series that’s set in Sun Valley, the young adult fantasy series “Kingdom Keepers” about a secret group of teenagers who protect Disneyland and World, and “Starcatchers,” which inspired the Tony-winning comedy “Peter and the Starcatcher.” 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, Boise Centre, 850 Front St., $50 at LearningLab.org.
▪ The Cabin’s Readings & Conversations brings New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast to Boise. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., Boise, $20 and $35 at 331-8000 and TheCabinIdaho.org. The series rounds out with New York Times bestselling-novelist George Saunders on Wednesday, March 2 and National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson on Wednesday, April 13.
▪ Rediscovered Books and Boise Public Library will co-present novelist V.E. Schwab, who will read from her latest book, “A Gathering of Shadows.” 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, in the library’s Hayes Auditorium, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. Free.
▪ The Idaho Writers Guild workshop series continues with horror novelist Michaelbrent Collings talking about “Finding Laughter in Horror, Horror in Laughter and Thrills Aplenty.” 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, Riverside Hotel, 2900 Chinden Blvd., Garden City. $25 for guild members, $35 general at IdahoWritersGuild.com.