Author Interviews & Guest Posts | Linus's Blanket

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

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?

An Unseemly Wife by E.B. MooreStoking 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.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I’m reading The Violet Season by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.  I came across her historical novel because she wrote a wonderful blurb for my book.  Hers is a captivating story of family trials as they struggle for control of a violet farm.  I had no idea there was such a thing as farms that raised only violets.

Kathy brings me into the scenes with intriguing details and dynamic conflicts as Ida tries to protect herself and her daughter from the dictates of overbearing men who should be protecting them.

Since writing my own book, I read more carefully, watching how the author develops character and plot.  It’s harder to get consumed by the story, but when I do, as with Kathy’s book, it’s a thrill.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

The most surprising discovery came as I questioned my uncles and cousins for their slant on the family catastrophe.  It turned out, reports of my great grandmother’s unseemly behavior (resisting her husband’s demand to leave the farm and put the lives of their children at risk) had come down only through the female side of the family.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Early on, men would have seen her message of self-reliance as reactionary, a message that would encourage women to disobey their husbands. Even my brother had been left in the dark.  My son, on the other hand, knows all.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

In the early morning dark, before I’m fully awake, ideas for scenes float in, and I write them on a pad without turning on the light. If I wake fully, the ideas will disappear.  Later, after breakfast I flesh them out on the computer. After lunch, comes editing time, quick before my eyes roll back in my head, and I hit the couch for a nap.  Then more editing takes the rest of afternoon until I no longer trust my judgment. Late edits usually have to revert to earlier versions.

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

My title started out as A Wager Of Bones. Then my wise agent, Alice Tasman, persuaded me that at first glance, it didn’t tell enough about what was inside the book. I resisted, chewing on suggestions like a cow on a cud, but couldn’t gag them down.

‘Wife’ should be in the title, Alice said.  I stomped around in a most unseemly manner, and there it was, the word that described Ruth best.  When I told Alice, she jumped on it, and to my delight An Unseemly Wife was born.  Not wanting to lose ‘A Wager Of Bones,’ I used it to head the book’s third section.

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?

School reading was hell.  Words and letters traded places on the page and I stumbled along wondering why everyone else in first grade could zip through See Spot Run before I turned the first page. Being dyslectic made all of school a struggle, but outside reading, where speed didn’t count, took me on magical journeys along with Grimm, Kipling, Dickens, and many others.  Being a writer didn’t cross my mind until my fifties.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

I’m part of an amazing community of writers in the Boston area.  Many of them, too many to mention here by name, are instructors at Grub Street Writers and can be found on the Grub website, and others can be found on the blogs:  beyondthemargins.com  and  deaddarlings.com  Take a look, their books are varied and well written, something for everyone.

What’s next?

I’m finishing another Amish novel. The book follows Joshua (an alias I use for my grandfather, this story based on his escapades) as he escapes his father’s secret whippings. Joshua, eleven and alone, starts on a ten-year journey, descending into the underbelly of the American west, while his mother, at home on the farm, struggles to accept God’s will: her son is dead. But questions haunt them both, and the answers force them to confront the unexpected snake in their Amish garden.

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

About E.B. Moore: E. B. Moore grew up in a Pennsylvania fieldstone house on a Noah’s ark farm.  The red barn stabled animals two-by-two, along with a herd of Cheviot sheep. After a career as a metal sculptor, she returned to writing poetry. Her chapbook of poems,New Eden, A Legacy, (Finishing Line Press, 2009) was the foundation for her novel, An Unseemly Wife both based on family stories from her Amish roots in Lancaster. E. B. received full fellowships to The Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo.  She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.