How does a typical book get written in your world – what do you start with?
Time—sometimes days, usually weeks, once in awhile months—go by before anything gets written down. I get the germ of an idea, play with the theme, mold it into a bit of a plot. I let the whole thing stew while I’m walking, driving, reading. Eventually, a story starts spinning around in my head. I let it percolate some more. Then and only then do I start sketching in longhand what the story is, who the characters are and the obstacles they face, and their resolutions. More percolation. At some point, I sit in front of the keyboard, enter a title (any title will do; it always changes anyway) and write an outline that displays the story, its major characters, the beginning, the middle, and the end. I might do some preliminary research. Now, I’m ready to write.
I work hard on the beginning, and don’t move on until I’m feeling good about what I’ve written.
After the beginning the story creation process is iterative: write, research, review what’s written, move on to the next scene, go back in a few days and review and rewrite, then move on – write, review, research … . Days may go by when nothing goes on paper while I orchestrate the next scene or scenes in my mind. Only when I’m satisfied with my mind’s view do I write some more.
The story begins to write me instead of the other way around when I’m half to three-quarters through. Words fly onto the screen in response to one epiphany after another. My outline? It’s now useless. I never look at it again. The end, at least that part before the drudgery of editing and rewriting is not far away. How much real time has lapsed. Six-months. A year. Two years. More. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the process.
How would you compare the protagonist of some of your books with yourself?
Isaac Ramsey (Lame Bird’s Legacy and Isaac’s Gun—An American Tale) loved to read and to write. He was encouraged to do so by his mother. His dad was too pragmatic, too driven by livelihood’s demands to pay much attention to the softer pursuits in life. These pieces of Isaac’s life border on being autobiographical for me.
Martin Holcomb, (Isaac’s Gun—An American Tale) was a writer, a journalist in his case. His penchants for journal writing and finding creative ways to express himself are very much like me.
Tom Fitzpatrick (Black Wolf’s Return) wanted his daughter to know her heritage, made a point of taking her to her forefathers homeland and sharing family stories. These are traits he and I have in common.
What classic piece of work do you wish you had written?
A question I don’t even have to think about: Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain was more than a great story teller. He had the gift of entertaining while confronting his readers with truths about themselves and the society they live. For me, Huckleberry Finn did this the best. I’ve come to realize that my current writing project, one that’s kept me writing off and on for a year and a half or so, is influenced by Huck Finn and his buddy, Tom Sawyer.
How do you deal with reviews?
I enjoy reviews. They give me an opportunity to explain what I’m trying to achieve when I write. I try to be open, hold nothing back with regards to my goals in writing, both for myself and for my readers. I’m grateful when someone wants to know about me and my writing, so before I sit down with her/him, I remind myself to listen before I answer—not an easy thing to do for someone who likes to talk.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Hmmm—tough question, not one I’m good at because many names that come to mind are past their prime or gone. That said, here are a few that are alive and well:
Sherrill O’Toole (Isaac’s Gun—An American Tale): Karen Gillan, if that is, she can shed her Scottish accent.
Martin Holcomb (Isaac’s Gun—An American Tale): Scott Eastwood.
Pronghorn (Lame Bird’s Legacy):—Wes Studi
Broken Nose (Black Wolf’s Return & Lame Bird’s Legacy):—Wes Studi
Tall Grass (Lame Bird’s Legacy):—Tantoo Cardinal
Old Isaac Ramsey (Isaac’s Gun—An American Tale):—Robert Duvall
Young Isaac Ramsey (Lame Bird’s Legacy):—Logan Lerman
Young Tessie (Black Wolf’s Return):—Adepero Oduye or Keke Palmer
Chief Joseph (Lame Bird’s Legacy):—Graham Greene
Seesee (Black Wolf’s Return):—Megan Goode
Black Wolf (Black Wolf’s Return)—Eddie Spears
Sara (Black Wolf’s Return):s—Kiernan Shipka
John Cantrell (Black Wolf’s Return):—Clint Eastwood
Is there any genre that you would never ever want to write in?
Erotica. There’s a place in my stories for passion, even, I suppose, gratuitous passion, but a story that revolves around erotica is not who I am.
What awesome books and projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m 47,000 words into a mid-1950’s coming of age story about a boy growing up in Southern California. I’m thinking it’s targeted to both young adult and mainstream literature readers, and I expect to be finished in the next few months. As always for me, I can’t settle on a title. It started out as Sarah’s Flute, which I knew wasn’t right. I recently changed it to the Dead Possum Gang, which seems to fit better with the story, although Sarah and her flute are still a huge part of the tale.
When my short story, Son, won Idaho Magazine’s adult fiction award I was inspired to dust off some of my previously rejected short stories. I rewrote Old Man Richardson, changed the title, and with the help of my Kiwi editor friend, tightened it up. I resubmitted it to a prospective publisher, not as Old Man Richardson, but as Coming Home. The story involves a dying old man, an unexpected visit from his estranged son, and reconciliation not realized.
I’m just finishing up a rewrite of my short story originally called Ten. It’s shorter now. Its new title is Shark, and I have high hopes for it. The story deals with a man facing his middle-aged self and realizing he’s nobody special.
Next: I’m planning to do a memoir piece on my grandmother. I’ve resurrected some of her writing from my archives. I plan on doing a piece or several pieces on her life—kind of reconnecting with my past like Tom Fitzpatrick does in Black Wolf’s Return, except I don’t need to go anywhere; Grandma went there for me in her writing.