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 and 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 through 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?

Continue Reading

A Walk Among Tombstones by Lawrence Block

Sometimes it takes a book being turned into a movie to spur me into 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 hard-boiled 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.

Continue Reading

E.B. Moore, Author of An Unseemly Wife, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing  author and they choose their own interview by handpicking the questions (and how many!) they want to answer. E.B. Moore is the author of  An Unseemly Wife. Here is what E.B. had to say about reading, writing, and how family stories inspired her writing.

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 came to writing by accident.  After college and art school, I worked as a sculptor hammering and welding large bronze sheets, but the body can only put up with so much, before it gives out.  Mine did, and returning to college, (at the same time as my youngest daughter), I stumbled into another creative outlet— poetry, always with narrative, mostly with a farm theme mirroring how I grew up.

Finishing Line Press published my twenty-six page chapbook, New Eden, A Legacy, the chronicle of my Amish great grandmother’s catastrophic trek west in a covered wagon. Readers wanted more of “Ruth’s” story, and much to my horror, a novel seemed the only answer. After years more sweat and schooling at Grub Street Writers, I finished An Unseemly Wife.

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?

Stoking the furnace is an important part of writing.  You’ve got to eat.  The biggest problem is limiting the time spent surfing the frig.  I’ve been known to rationalize eating as research.  Pickled pigs’ feet appear in my book, so to get the exact flavor and the feel of its gelatinous substrate housing the meat, I needed a sample.  Hard to find unless you’re in Amish country. I went to Lancaster PA, and more appealing things beckoned: sour cherry pie, pecan, shoofly, custard, whoopee pies, not a pie at all.

Reading is actually more useful, serving as inspiration when I get bogged down.  I keep special books on a handy shelf so I can read snippets.  Sometimes just a paragraph or two is enough.  These are at the top of my pile: March, by Geraldine Brooks, Grapes of Wrath, Lord of the Flies.

My day starts early.  4:00am is the sweet spot; I’m sharpest then, and it limits interruptions.  The only problem:  when my friends go out to dinner, I’m ready for bed.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

When I was a kid, my mother told me her family’s story often.  One was how Aaron bundled his pregnant wife Ruth and their four littles into a covered wagon, and against their Amish faith, joined the dreaded English heading for free land in Idaho. On the trek, they faced Indian attacks, pestilence, and prejudice leading to betrayal, and they were left alone on the trailside fighting for their lives.

Mother wanted to write this story, but a brain tumor took her memory before she wrote more than a cryptic list of incidents.  Living with me after her operation, she’d ask over and over to hear about Ruth.  My kids would cover their ears and run from the room. “No, no, not the wagon of death again.”

In the end, the characters nattered at me until I wrote them down. And yes, my life has changed.  I’m now a slave to new characters who intrude whenever it suits them.

Continue Reading