Native son returns for book release party, essay contest

Do you have a good story about how a song changed your life, or maybe how an album got you through a challenging time?

If you want to tell it, you could win some cash and prizes and a chance to read your story at a literary event in Billings this July.

The contest is being held in conjunction with a book release party for Billings native Robert K. Elder, whose latest creation is “The Mixtape of My Life,” a guided journal designed to help readers tell the story of their lives through their music collection.

Elder and the book’s illustrator, Rob Marvin, also a Billings native, will celebrate its release from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 26, at the Pub Station, 2502 First Ave. N., in downtown Billings.

Elder had already been planning a hometown book release party and asked Pub Station co-owner Sean Lynch how he could expand the event beyond having just him and Marvin on stage talking about their book. Lynch put him in touch with Anna Paige, a fixture in the local arts community (and recently hired as the Billings Gazette’s new arts and entertainment writer).

Paige is also a member of the Waste Division, a Billings art collective that promotes writing, music and visual arts. She talked to some other members of the collective, who came up with the contest idea.

Robert K. Elder

Robert K. Elder

“We thought it would be the perfect pairing,” said Eric Toennis, who lives in Eugene, Oregon and is the senior editor at Waste Division. He worked on the project with colleagues Phil Griffin, Cooper Malin, Jordan Finn, Daniel Nichols and Mary Kate Teske, as well as the CMYK Community.

The deadline for the essay contest is June 15. The winner, as well as two runners-up and two honorable-mention winners, will have their works published on Waste Division, and the top three will be asked to read their essays at the book release party. For guidelines, writing tips and information on prizes, go here. Elder and the group of editors from Waste Division will read and judge all entries.

Toennis said he, Griffin, Malin, Finn and Nichols all graduated from Billings Senior High between 2009 and 2011. He was surprised to find that Elder and Marvin both graduated from there, too.

“It’s crazy how much Senior High is represented in this whole thing,” he said.

Elder also has a personal connection with the Pub Station, which was originally built as a bus depot. His grandparents met there because his grandfather worked for the bus company and his grandmother worked as a waitress in the depot cafe.

“So it is a homecoming in more than one way,” Elder said.

Elder, 42, who lives in Chicago, has been rather busy since leaving Billings. He worked as a reporter and film critic for the Chicago Tribune, published seven books before “Mixtape” and has been involved in several big digital projects, including his latest venture, Blockchain News, of which he is president and publisher.

He said he came up with the idea for a mixtape book a decade ago, before Spotify existed, and originally conceived of it as a web-based project. After the idea incubated for many years, he said, “I thought maybe there’s a more tactile way of doing this.”

Hence the book, subtitled “A Do-It-Yourself Music Memoir,” in which Elder poses more than 200 questions and prompts to help the reader compile his or her own life story built around musical milestones, important songs and favorite bands.

Elder said that when he started work on the book, he thought of his high school friend, Marvin, whom he described as “this amazing illustrator and fellow film buff,” and asked him to collaborate on the book. “The Mixtape of My Life” was published last month by Running Press.

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