Patrick McManus was trying to figure out the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B on his book tour Wednesday. Fast was important, because he had a schedule to meet.

So in true McManus fashion, he set off on a "shortcut" across the mountains of Idaho."Somehow, I got to the top of some stormy pass and it was blizzardy and we didn't know where we were and we didn't know if we'd be able to make it back down or if the road would be closed," he laughed in a telephone interview Thursday morning.

By Friday afternoon, the adventure will be an essay called "Winter Shortcuts" - another slice of life from the outdoorsman-turned-essayist-turned humorist. And in a year or so the devoted readers of his very funny books will be reading all about it and laughing out loud.

McManus, author of 11 humorous and popular "slice-of-life" books, is in Salt Lake Friday for the opening performance of "A Fine and Pleasant Misery," based on McManus' first book. The one-man play, starring Tim Behrens, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights at Highland Park Elementary School, 1738 E. 2700 South. Tickets are $11 for adults and $7 for children.

McManus grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, where he spent much of his time hiking and fishing and hunting. His small-town adventures formed the background of his earliest essays. He was also an artist who loved to paint the things he saw on his rambles. But by the time he got out of college, McManus knew that he would take his love of words and of art and combine them in "cartoony" essays.

First he went to work for a newspaper in Lewiston, Idaho, where he covered stories like arson fires. Then he started doing columns for Outdoor Life. Those essays were later collected into "A Fine and Pleasant Misery."

Collecting it was easy. Getting it published wasn't, he said.

"I had a terrible time getting it published. One day I was in New York in an elevator and I ran into a publisher I happened to know. He said, `When are you going to send me that collection of yours?' I said I already had. `You rejected it.' I'd send the book to one publisher and get it back (with a rejection note) from another. They were passing it around, trying to help me find a place. They kept saying, `I like this, but collections don't sell.' "

Now he can laugh about it, since his books have sold more than 4 million copies.

Finally he gave up and moved to Mexico to teach for a while. He left his manuscript with an editor friend who worked for CBS. That friend walked it across the hall to Holt-Winston Publishing, where someone owed him a favor. They printed 5,000 copies of the book. When those sold, they printed 2,000 more. And so it went, without promotion or book tours or fanfare.

Seven years after it was published, "A Fine and Pleasant Misery" made the publishers' best-seller list.

The books are loved for the homey, humorous quality. But accused of exaggerating his adventures, McManus deadpans: "No. I go through and remove all the exaggerations editors put in before the books are printed."

"How I Got This Way" is his latest book. He no longer publishes old columns - he's long since run out of those - "or the good ones, anyway," he said. Now he's writing for the books, in between road trips to promote the books. And he's still a columnist for Outdoor Life.