Linus's Blanket | Books. Food. Comfort. Culture.

Out of Twenty: Brian Payton, The Author of The Wind Is Not A River, Answers Seven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author Brian Paytonand they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Brian Payton is the author of  The Wind Is Not  River. Here is what Brian had to say about reading, writing, and the relevance of historical fiction.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I’m a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. My latest book, The Wind Is Not A River, is both a survival story and a love story set in the wilderness of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands leading up to the only battle of WWII fought on American soil. My previous books, The Ice Passage and Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness are narrative nonfiction books dealing with history and conservation respectively. My first novel, drawn from events in my own life, was Hail Mary Corner. I live in Vancouver with my wife and our two daughters. I’ve been writing since my late teens.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I am resolutely non-superstitious so I have no writing rituals. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I approach it much the same way: I treat it not like “a job” but as a vocation and a call to action. With fiction, once I have an idea, I chain my ass to a chair for a few weeks to see if a character and story begin to show signs of life. I do not wait for the muse; I follow my interests and get to work.

Write the question you would most like to be asked and answer it.

Your latest book is historical fiction. What makes this story relevant today?

Great survival stories can tell us something elemental about what it means to be alive. This story is primarily a story of survival and devotion set against a history that has been lost in the popular culture—a history I hope to help reclaim. Great love stories can tell us something about the human experience, what it means to live with, without, and for one another… who we are in the presence or absence of love.

With this book, my goal is to transport readers to a stark, beautiful, and unforgiving landscape, then challenge them to ask themselves: How far would you go in search of the truth, or to honor a lost loved one? What are we willing to do to survive, or risk for the sake of love?

The Wind Is Not  A River by Brian PaytonAre you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

When I’m writing fiction, I allow myself to read nonfiction. Conversely, I read fiction when I’m writing nonfiction. Although I have no writing “rituals” per se, each day before writing I try and read some poetry no matter what I’m working on. During the writing and editing of The Wind Is Not A River, I immersed myself in the poetry of Seamus Heaney, particularly the bog poems.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

From the beginning, I had the title of this book in place: The Wind Is Not A River. I realize the title is a head scratcher, a koan, but it evolved naturally out of the course of the narrative and the struggle of one of the two main characters. It is of the place in which the book is set and is appropriate. I realize that some people might find it too cryptic and therefore may be inclined to give it a pass, but many readers are intrigued and curious to take part in solving the mystery. I’m more interested in telling this story to the second group of readers.

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, I can’t remember much of what I read as a child, beyond the Hardy Boys mysteries, ghostwritten by authors collectively known as “Franklin W. Dixon.” Then, as now, I loved being read to. I remember being mesmerized by my stunningly beautiful third grade teacher, who read E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to the class. I was hooked on every word.

And then I read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath when I was 14, and it shook me to the core. I vividly remember savoring the final scene while on the road, curled up in the hatchback of our Ford Pinto (infamous for having its gas tank behind the bumper!) because there were not enough seats for all us kids. By the time I reached the ending, I was sobbing loud enough to require explanation. I knew then that I had magic in my hands and wanted to become a magician.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

About the Author: Brian Payton is the author of The Wind Is Not A River, which was chosen as an American Booksellers Association IndieNext “Great Reads” Pick, an American Library Association “Library Reads” Pick, an Amazon Book of the Month, and a BookPage Top Fiction Pick (Jan. 2014). Payton is also the author of the novel Hail Mary Corner and two acclaimed works of narrative nonfiction: Shadow Of The Bear: Travels In Vanishing Wilderness, which was a Barnes and Noble Book Club Pick and a U.S. National Outdoor Book Awards Book of the Year; and The Ice Passage: A True Story Of Ambition, Disaster, And Endurance In The Arctic Wilderness, which was a finalist for the Hubert Evans Nonfiction Prize. Payton lives with his family in Vancouver.

Photo Credit: Alison Rosa, Doug Rosa

Review: A Walk Among Tombstones by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block - A Walk TombstonesSometimes it takes a book being turned into a movie to spur me to reading a writer’s work, or in this case, get back to it. With A Walk Among Tombstones, Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens are providing the impetus to return to the writing of Lawrence Block in anticipation of seeing the movie. I was introduced to Block back in 2011, when I read his most recent entry in the Matthew Scudder series entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I loved the hardboiled feel of the book and the intricacy of the detective work as that novel examined an early case in Scudder’s career. However, I didn’t get a sense of Scudder’s history. It also seemed that he spent an inordinate amount of time attending AA meetings and contemplating his life and sobriety. Nevertheless I was intrigued by his character and had always planned to the earlier books.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff  follows Scudder as he’s first embracing his sobriety and AA. I remember wondering whether he would be less intense, even happier as he became more comfortable in his new life. Reading this novel both confirmed and disproved my thoughts on Scudder. Walk Among Tombstones begins with Scudder narrating the last hours in the life of Francine Koury, the wife of a modest heroin distributor. In the midst of buying groceries, she is abducted by two men who escort her into the back of a blue van and drive off with her. Scudder juxtaposes her movements and abduction against his own; he spends time with his girlfriend and contemplates a trip to Ireland to visit a wayward friend who is having problems returning to the country. His plans change when he receives a call from Kenan Koury and his brother Peter (whom Scudder knows from AA meetings) for help dealing with Francine’s abductors.

While Scudder had no love for drug dealers, neither does he have any qualms about tracking and handing over a pair of ruthless kidnappers to vigilante justice. And so the tale begins. A Walk Among Tombstones is a dark, gritty novel exploring a brutal and senseless crime, but I enjoyed reading it for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the character development and the portrayal of the interpersonal relationships- they strengthen what could easily have been a plot driven novel. While the number of AA meeting he attends hasn’t changed, Scudder is at a different place in his life, more balanced as he develops his relationship with Elaine, whose straightforward support and street smarts make her an engaging lover and confidante. He also deepens his relationship with TJ, a street kid with the smarts and connection to help Scudder track down the bad guys, while developing a firm rapport with Peter and Kenan.

I also found myself fascinated with being immersed in the grittiness of ‘80s New York. It’s almost like reading about another world. The subways were dangerous, cell phones had yet to make an appearance among the common man, computers weren’t wireless, and TJ’s big thrill comes from finally getting a beeper. I’m very curious to see how this translates in the movie, but Block masterfully conveys the New York of a bygone era and a complex investigator attempting to piece his life together in that world. Hollywood would be wise to stick to the main beats of this engaging and finely detailed crime novel.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review