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Encouraged to write his own fiction by the likes of Sam Shepard and Peter Matthiessen, Howard Norman tapped a cache of characters and folk tales (including Cree and Inuit lore and myth) collected from years of study, travel, and translation in Canada to forge quirky and wonderfully readable stories. Fifteen years later, in 1994, The Bird Artist, the second novel from the sometimes local wordsmith, earned him a second National Book Award nomination and a place among American authors as an epic novelist. The publication of his third novel, The Museum Guard, salted with eccentric Nova Scotian characters, deliberate and witty first-person narrative, and a dash of unrequited love, is a consistent follow-up and certainly stands a chance to deliver Norman his third nomination. Norman reads from and signs copies of his book at 7 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Greg Pavlovcak)