Q: What’s coming next from you?
The novel I independently published in February 2009, 600 Hours of Edward, will be re-released in August 2012 by Amazon Publishing. It’s another amazing twist for this book, which was eventually released by Montana publisher Riverbend in October 2009 and, now, will be getting a whole new life three years down the road. My second novel, The Summer Son, was released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. My third book, a collection of short stories called Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, was released December 6th, 2011. And now I’m happy to say that the sequel to 600 Hours of Edward, a novel called Edward Adrift, will be released in 2013 by Amazon Publishing.
Q: How did you break through the publishing wall?
I suppose the answer to this question depends on whether the asker considers independent publishing as something less than ideal (I do not take that point of view). As a self-publisher, I broke through the wall by using one of the myriad do-it-yourself services out there. Once I had a book, I hustled hard to get it in front of readers. As someone who is now being traditionally published, I broke through by writing a book that a publisher wanted to invest in. Part of that, I’m sure, was that I had proved on a small scale that the book had appeal. A bigger part is that I wrote a good book. I certainly shouldn’t be anyone’s paragon of publishing expertise, but it all starts with writing a good book. Without that, the rest doesn’t matter.
Q: You come from a journalism background. How has that helped your fiction writing? Has it been an impediment at all?
It’s helped me in a couple of ways. The most obvious one is that I have the discipline to sit down and write. When you’re doing long-form fiction, the act of writing a book isn’t a singular event; it’s many days of sitting down and pushing the story forward bit by bit. Well, I’ve been sitting down and doing journalism for more than 20 years. I know how to plug away at something. Journalism has also helped me to be attuned to what a good story is — not just the huge, breaking events that we all recognize as news, but also the tender, subtle, very human stories that are playing out all around us. Being able to catch that moment of inspiration — and recognizing it when I see it — is a huge plus.
I can’t think of any significant way in which my grounding in journalism has hindered me. Fiction writing and news writing, beyond the obvious mechanical similarities, are completely different things. In news writing, for instance, you want to front-load most stories with the most vital information, because you’re almost assuming that no one will read to the end. With fiction writing, you still need to grab the reader at the outset, but the reveal comes much more slowly, and you’re assuming that those who start reading will finish.
Q: What fascinates you about the contemporary West? How does your own background fuel this fascination?
I’ve lived most of my life here, and certainly every important event — my birth, my growing-up years, my biggest professional achievements — has happened here. That’s the personal influence. The more universal truth is that the West I know both reflects and belies its long-held image. I live in Billings, Montana, which is a geographical oddity in that it’s the largest city in a 500-mile radius and the regional hub of commerce. Thus, the parts of Billings that some people know best are its big-box stores and auto dealerships and the like, and there’s certainly nothing in any of those places that is uniquely western. But if you know where to look, the evidence of Billings’ not-so-distant Old West past can be seen, and if you venture afield, you’ll find folks extracting a life from Montana’s bounty in much the same way people did 100-some-odd years ago.
Horace Greeley’s exhortation — “Go West, young man” — echoes today. I meet these people all the time, the ones who cast off whatever tethered them to the place where they were raised and came out here to start anew. Hell, I may be one of them. I’m not a natural-born Montanan, though I often dreamed of this place when I was a young man. Like so many other people, I got here as quickly as I could.
Q: Who are your literary influences?
When I was in high school, I had to read A Farewell to Arms for a class and fell in love with Hemingway’s spare style. To some degree, his studied simplicity has fallen out of favor among writers, and I think that’s a mistake. He built these solid sentences that were pure triumphs of architecture. Later on, I read Wallace Stegner and was awed by his Western sensibility and skillful storytelling. Ivan Doig is another. He writes beautifully, lyrically. I’m amazed at what he can do with language. And, of course, there’s Steinbeck, the literary forebear of both Stegner and Doig.
I love literary writing, and I’m particularly drawn to writers who can manage that while also mixing in genre elements. Among contemporary authors, somebody like Michael Chabon is about as good as it gets.
Q: You write prolifically, yet you’re still a full-time journalist. How do you find the time to pump out the prose?
I could certainly be much better at balancing all of that; when I’m in the thick of a novel, in particular, I tend to develop a tunnel vision that makes me hard to reach, and that can be frustrating for those who have to deal with me. I’ve mitigated that somewhat by having discovered the most fruitful time for work, both in terms of physiology and in terms of having the solitude I need. I’m at my most productive between midnight and 3 a.m., and during those hours, nobody has much need for me. They’re sleeping.
Q: What are some of the mistakes you’ve made along the way to publication, and what would you to say to would-be authors to help them avoid those pitfalls?
The single biggest mistake was originally rushing to market with my self-published book. In retrospect, it’s hard to call this a mistake given the way things worked out, but if I had done my homework about independent publishing, had done a much more substantial edit, had a whiz-bang cover out of the gate, etc., it’s conceivable that book would have done even better. Or I might have practiced patience.
I didn’t give myself enough time to query literary agents about my novel. I was impatient; I wanted it out there. While it served me well in this case, the deeper I get involved with publishing, the more abundantly clear it is that impatience gets you nowhere. There’s a lot of waiting, a lot of dead ends, a lot of revisions in getting a novel from your computer monitor to readers’ hands. My advice to anyone who thinks this might be for them: Learn to live with the waiting now.
Q: Will you take a look at my manuscript and tell me what you think of it?
Informally, no. I have to protect my limited time that isn’t eaten up by my own writing, a full-time job, responsibilities at home and my other ventures. However, if you’re interested in hiring me as a story editor, a copy editor or a typesetter/designer, I offer a full range of editorial services at rates that are very competitive in the field.
Q: Will you speak to my book club or civic organization? What does it cost?
I will be happy to do my level best to make it work with my schedule. Drop me a line and tell me what you’re thinking. If you’re local (that is, Billings and immediate area), I’m happy to do it for the fellowship, a meal and/or the opportunity to sell some books. If it requires travel, an honorarium that helps me offset my time and expense is much appreciated. Drop me a line, and I’ll do my best to work something out.
Q: Will you autograph my book?
Happy to do it, either at an in-person event or a copy sold through my online store. As yet, I don’t have a system in place for handling books that are sent to me to be signed. Keeping up with that amid everything else would mean pressing the dogs into work, and so far they have been unreceptive to my overtures.
Q: Where can I find the best pizza in the western United States?
Well, now, that question is a mouthful. This is strictly my opinion, but your best bet is to hop in your car and point it to Fairview, Montana. The Powder Keg makes the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and no trip back to the eastern edge of Montana is complete without sampling it.
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