The False Unity of Opposition

I had a thought on election night back in November, as we slowly crawled to the fact of President Trump. I wished I’d blogged it back then, but I’ll just have to ask you to trust me about this.

The thought, as I sat there and contemplated Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House, was this – can the “party of no” go from playing opposition to actually governing? Recent events suggest they may not.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), Republicans have pledged to repeal it. It was a promise Trump embraced enthusiastically during the campaign. If there was one clear thing Americans could expect a united GOP power structure to do, it was to gut Obamacare. Last Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew the proposed “repeal and replace” bill, rather than watch it go down in flames on the House floor. Democrats only had to smirk from the sidelines.

What the hell happened? How could a party so unified in the past about a goal fall apart so quickly?

Because being the opposition helps creates a false sense of unity among those doing the opposing. Think about it – so long as the only thing a group has to do is say “no” to some outsider they don’t have to deal with their own internal divisions.

Make no mistake – during the Obama years, the GOP was the opposition. While they controlled both the House and Senate (for varying lengths of time), it wasn’t enough to override a veto, if it came to that. Measures with bipartisan support were possible (if vanishingly rare), but true GOP proposals were dead on arrival. Hence those 54 votes to repeals of the ACA, none of which actually accomplished anything (aside from being red meat for fund raising).

That’s not quite true – it papered over the differences in the party itself. After all, when the default position is anti-whatever the other party wants, it’s easy to stick together. It doesn’t matter why you take that position, only that you do. That one group of reps are coming from a deeply ideological direction and a second from a  more moderate one is irrelevant so long as they both arrive at the same result.

There’s an old saying that pure democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. While we can assume there’s at least two votes not to eat the wolves, we might not assume there’s the same support for eating the sheep. After all, one of the wolves could be a vegetarian.

So now, I suppose, the question is – how long before the GOP wolves finally figure out how to eat the sheep.

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Water Road Wednesday – Thank Yous

The first time I had something called The Water Road in my (virtual) hands was the fall of 2009. The book was my NaNoWriMo project that year, my second “winner” (the first is in the back of my closet, probably permanently). The process started some time before that, what with character sketches and some basic world building.

But the very first thing I remember writing was a Neldathi creation myth. It poured out in a very un-fantastic place.

Every year my office and our Federal Defender counterparts in the Northern District of West Virginia put on a two-day seminar for private attorneys who handle court appointed criminal cases. We alternate hosting and in 2009 the Northern District hosted up in Morgantown. Through the day and a half of the seminar (on breaks or during sessions that didn’t really apply to me), I sketched out this story about the Maker of Worlds and how she created this world in which I was going to tell this story.

Naturally, I had to account for the titular river, as fantastic a thing as there is in The Water Road universe. It was not born of a pleasant impulse:

Eons passed before the Maker of Worlds remembered her watery creation with the one continent upon it.  In the time that had passed, The Land had become full of life.  Not only animals and plants, but intelligent beings, who lived together in communities and created a society.  The Land was rich and plentiful, but its inhabitants still found things to fight about.  They constantly warred, on upon the other, seemingly without end.  When the Maker saw what had become of her world, she was depressed.  And she was angry.

In her anger, the Maker of Worlds lashed out at her creation.  She drove a single finger into the soil on the east side of The Land.  Then, she drug it across the entire breadth of The Land, changing it forever.  In the wake of the Maker’s finger came Great Basin Lake and The Water Road.  To the south of the river, great mountains heaved up from the soil, all the way south to the cold southern seas.  To the north, The Land cracked and two great rivers were formed as water rushed into the fissures.  The far north, beyond the reach of the waters, became barren, dry, and unhospitable.  The people of The Land were likewise shattered, north and south, divided by the The Water Road into Neldathi and Altrerian.  Many multitudes died.

Much as I enjoyed pulling that together, I knew it wasn’t part of the story itself. It was essentially a note to myself – something I didn’t intend anybody else to see. But it started something inside me, lit a fuse that wasn’t going to go out. It got so insistent that when the final session wound up I plopped myself down in a big chair in the hotel lobby, pen in hand and a legal pad, and scratched out:

It had been ten years since Gaven had been confronted by an angry Neldathi with a gun.

I didn’t get much further than that (I was months away from NaNo), but I’d crossed the Rubicon. There was no going back after that.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I never really thought I’d be here, looking back on eight years of work and being “done” with The Water Road. So I wanted to take care of one last piece of business, to acknowledge everybody who helped me get here. Thanks . . .

Firstly, to my family, friends, and coworkers who put up with a “writer” in their midst, who asked supportive questions and never made me feel like I was wasting my time chasing a silly dream.

To the members of West Virginia Writers, Inc., the Absolute Write Water Cooler, and KBoards who are quick with their advice, encouragement, and support. Great writing may be mostly about talent, but being a great writer means recognizing that those others out there who do what you do are allies and colleagues, not rivals.

To Empire Books & News in Huntington, West Virginia, who support local authors not because they’re some kind of odd curiosity that draws gawkers, but because they have great stories to tell, too.

To my copy editor, Claudette, who plowed through all three books of The Water Road, helping them be the best, most professional products they can be.

To the fine folks at Deranged Doctor Designs who did the covers for The Water Road trilogy. I get compliments on them almost everywhere they pop up.

And, of course, big thanks to readers who have told me how much they’ve enjoyed these books. That’s the greatest reward a writer could hope for.

Finally, to my wife, Kelly. When we met I was someone who had  a few ideas and thought, maybe, I could write something, sometime. Back by her voracious reading habit, she’s pushed and supported me through all this, providing valuable, honest feedback and sharing in my happiness at getting this all done. I love you, sweetie.

On to new things!

Author Interview – Yawatta Hosby

This time we talk with Yawatta Hosby, who wants to tell you about the things that go thump in the dark.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

Hi, I’m Yawatta Hosby, a sassy leo, a quirky INTJ, a creative soul. I like keeping people on their toes, which gets me into trouble sometimes ha ha. I live in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, and I write dark and creepy stuff. The monsters in my books are always human.

For those who don’t know the lingo, what’s “INTJ”? And how do you think that impacts your life as a writer?

INTJ means I’m very introverted, always in my head. I’m curious about everything and go out of my way to explore all answers. I like to think outside the box, and I’m always seeking the truth. INTJ means I’m a determined strategist.

Being this way definitely impacts my writing. It makes me write in a straightforward way, perhaps too fast paced. I’m not emotional, so I rely on my critique partners and beta-readers to let me know when my scenes lack emotional drama or when a character is acting too calm during a situation when they should be upset, depressed, happy, etc.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

I published Twisted Obsession, which is a dark suspense novella. Miki traps his ex, Finia, into having a baby with him. The more she refuses to love Miki, the more he lashes out. He believes Finia is the perfect woman and Jahlin is the perfect son. He’ll do anything necessary to get his happy ending.

Twisted Obsession - High Resolution

In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

I primarily write in the horror genre. I chose it because it’s fun to scare myself. I get inspired by my fears, so I can relate to my characters. I absolutely love slasher films like Wrong Turn, Scream, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The more bloody gore, the better. When I write my stories, I always think in terms of what I’d like to see on the big screen.

I always have a hard time defining “horror” as a genre – what does it mean to you? Where’s the dividing line between fiction about bad people doing bad things and horror?

To me, horror means the book scared me to death. It gave me chills or it disgusted me (in a good way). The dividing line between fiction about bad people doing bad things and horror is horror will bring out the fear in you. Horror will give you nightmares or force you to keep the lights on. Fiction about people doing bad things can be suspense, thrillers, or crime fiction. It’s scary or creepy, but it doesn’t really go there in terms of being offensive or frightening.

When I watched The Strangers with Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, I had nightmares for two weeks and was afraid to answer the door if someone knocked. The Strangers is horror. Fear with Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg was an awesome movie. Mark played an awesome villain. In fact, he creeped me out, but I didn’t have nightmares afterwards. I’d label Fear as suspense, a movie about people doing bad things.

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

I have two notebooks–a book of observations and a story ideas one. Whenever I get an idea, I write it down. I usually work on multiple WIPs at once. I’m addicted to notebooks, so each story gets written in its own notebook. I don’t attempt to type anything in Google Docs or Microsoft Word until I write ‘the end.’ This helps me stay in writing mode, turning my inner-editor off.

After my story is typed, I revise it. Then, I get feedback from critique partners. I keep making rounds of edits until I’m satisfied after listening to beta-readers and an editor. My first two books I had a line by line editor. With Twisted Obsession, I took a chance with a developmental editor. She was worth every penny, making my book a creepy one to the max.

What did your developmental editor did that surprised you or really make you say that was the right decision?

My developmental editor Monica loved my Chapter 29 of Twisted Obsession. Some of my beta-readers had urged me to change the ending, but Monica said what happened to the son had to be done. She suggested I add scenes to make Miki a even more vile, creepy, demented villain. Monica really pushed me to keep the dark and twisted mood throughout the novella.

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Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favorite character is Rae from my debut novel, One By One. I felt so bad for her. She watched killers torture her parents right in front of her face. Ten years later, her brother asks her to visit their vacation home, seeking closure. She’s depressed and withdrawn at the beginning of the book, but learns to toughen up and fight back towards the end.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

The weirdest subject I’ve had to research was if there’s a death penalty in Ireland. I have a story idea where a little girl grows up to find out her dad was a serial killer. He’s not dead like her family told her. He’s actually rotting away in prison. It makes sense why she has certain urges.

So? Do they have the death penalty in Ireland? I think I know the answer, but . . .

Ha ha, they don’t have the death penalty in Ireland anymore. I believe it was abolished in 1964.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

Writing takes discipline and hard work. You have to set a writing schedule and protect your writing time. Trust me, the people in your life will test you! I’m a fast writer, finishing a first draft within a month and a half. But, I’m a slow reviser. I lack motivation during this stage. Maybe because it’s a lot of pressure to get the pacing and flow of the story right. I urge writers to find motivation when creating projects. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely activity.

Do your schedule your writing so that you write for a specific amount of time or do you try and reach a certain quota each day?

I schedule my writing so that I write for a specific time. I find that I’m more productive in multiple fifteen minute increments throughout the day.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

That would be grand! I’d quit my 9 to 5 and write full time. I’d travel the world to become a traveler blogger for a while, then I’d share my short film scripts with local actors, or anyone interested in the production side of things to direct my own films and put up on YouTube. Hopefully small indie projects would help land me a staff writing position for a popular tv show. Once I got tired of LA (if that’s even possible!), I’d buy a vacation home in Maine so I could focus on writing novels.

I’d go to writing conferences and wrifing retreats. Since I’m shy, I’d pay for a writing buddy to go with me. Somewhere in this fantasy, I’d focus on creating comics and graphic novels too. If only money could buy more hours in the day ha ha.

What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

I really enjoyed Homesick by Richard Simms. He had a way of bringing his characters to life with their narrations. A family moves into a house with a dreaded history. A history that repeats itself. A history that shows no mercy.

What do you think you’re next project will be?

My next book will be the sequel to One By One. It’s called Six Plus One. In the first book, Detective Brown vows to keep his daughter, Alta, safe. He can’t keep that promise. Alta and her friends take a road trip to Green Bank, West Virginia. The quiet town with no WiFi known for its satellite used to find signals from extrasserials. Filming their alien-centric web series in the woods should be an in and out situation, but a killer has other plans in mind. The crew of Aliens R Us disappears–not from the town’s legend.

Yawatta Online

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Water Road Wednesday – The Bay of Sins Is Here!

Today’s the big day – after several delays (sorry about that), the saga of The Water Road trilogy is complete:

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The Bay of Sins is now available from Amazon in both eBook and paperback form! For just 99 cents!

In fact, for the next few days, in celebration of the trilogy being complete, you can get each volume for just 99 cents.

The one that started it all, The Water Road:

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The follow up that tackles the costs of war, The Endless Hills:

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Each just 99 cents!  They’re not likely to be this price again for a very long time.

Next week – final thoughts on an 8-year journey.

Come Watch Me Read!

All this month my abode of Putnam County is having “Tastes and Talents: A month featuring Putnam’s finest  food, art, and music!” I’m happy to say that I’m a part of this, with a reading next Wednesday at the Putnam County Public library.*

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I’ll be reading a few different things, maybe, just possibly, including a new short story I’ve been working on. I’ll also be giving away a few books as part of the world’s easiest fantasy/sci-fi trivia game. This will also be my first appearance once The Bay of Sins comes out, so I’ll have the complete The Water Road trilogy with me for sale.

And if that’s not enough – there be cupcakes!  Serendipity Cupcake Boutique will be providing some tasty treats. So even if you don’t enjoy what you hear, you’ll enjoy what you eat. Can’t beat that, can you?

For more details check here on Facebook (be sure to tell us if you’re going or interested) and see the full roster of Tastes and Talents events here.

* Don’t let Google fool you – the library is behind Liberty Square on Route 34 (as you head toward Winfield), not down past the new elementary school out toward Hurricane.

Three Laws to Rule Them All!

If you’re any kind of science fiction fan, you’re familiar with Isaac Asimov. He didn’t come up with the concept of robots, but a lot of what we picture when we think about robots in fiction (and otherwise) flows from his stories and novels about robots.

Among his contributions are the Three Laws of Robotics. They debuted in a 1942 story called “Runaround” and go like this:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2 A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The Three Laws were a response to the hoary trope (even in 1942!) of robots run amok, turning on their masters. In other words, turning into Bender:

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If you’re already programming them, why not program them not to kill you? Seems sensible.

Which is why, perhaps, one of my local legislators is appropriating Asimov’s Three Laws for West Virginia’s. Feast your eyes on House Bill 2881, introduced last week. It would amend “the Code of West Virginia, 1931” – dig our retro legal code! – by inserting language addressing legal requirements for a “robot” or “autonomous vehicle.” Anything look familiar?

§15-14-3. Minimum safety standards for robotic technology.

(a) A robot may not be enabled, by design or human command, to injure a human being.

(b) A robot shall be designed to obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with subsection (a).

(c) A robot shall be designed to protect its own existence so long as such protection does not conflict with subsection (a) or subsection (b).

All right, it doesn’t track Asimov’s Three Laws word for word, but it’s pretty damned close. Frankly, given the dumb stuff our legislature tends to come up with, cribbing a law about robots from Asimov seems pretty astute, not to mention slightly ahead of the curve. It’s not like you can just throw the three together – you got to get the order right:

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What’s funny – or disturbing – is that Asimov himself wrote a short story about autonomous cars. It doesn’t end well. They may not take well to the Three Laws.

Maybe we should think about this a bit.

Water Road Wednesday – Final Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this final excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Hirrek scours the Neldathi city of Albandala for information about the murder of a thek. He needs to ask questions some people don’t want to hear. They’re happy to vent their displeasure toward him:

The continued celebration made the enclave louder than the others he had visited. It was nearly impossible for him to hear what people around him were saying as he passed by. The crowd was thick enough that just moving through it without running into people was a challenge. Without knowing it, his avoidance maneuvers eventually took him to the outskirts of the enclave, near the edge of the city itself. He breathed a bit more easily there, enjoying the open space. The din of the crowd rumbled in the background.

That was how they took him by surprise. The first blow knocked him to the ground, his face landing hard on dirty packed snow. He managed to roll over and see three people standing over him. All had the green and white Elein stripes in their braids.

“Keeps poking around,” one of them said. He was younger than Hirrek and not as big. “Like he’s got a right to know something.”

“You’d think he’d learned by now that nobody wants to talk with him,” said another. He was older and standing back from the other two a bit.

“People can talk to whomever they want,” Hirrek said, getting ready to stand up.

The third one, about Hirrek’s age and even bigger than he was, kicked him in the side. “How’s that for talking?”

The first one laughed. The older one didn’t. Hirrek made a note of that as he crumpled to the snow and tried to catch his breath.

“If you have nothing to say, that’s fine,” Hirrek said after a few moments, managing to make it to his hands and knees. “But you have no right to keep me from talking to others.”

“Who gave you the right to start asking?” asked the second man. The third one kicked Hirrek again, sending him back to the ground, face first.

Hirrek spat dirty snow from his mouth and did everything possible to hide the pain he’d endured so far. “The Maker gave me that right, as she did for all of you.” He didn’t expect that to work, but wanted to see what they said at the mention of the Maker of Worlds.

“A blasphemer as well,” said the first man.

“One goes along with the other,” said the third.

“You see?” said the older man. He looked to be the leader of this little group. “This is what you get when you give yourself over to the blasphemy of one god. This one’s from Clan Dost, not that you’d know it to look at him. He’s free to do whatever he wants, but what right does he have to tell us?”

“Yeah!” the other two said.

“He thinks just because his father pretends he’s jeyn now he can go anywhere he likes.”

“My father doesn’t think he’s jeyn, and doesn’t pretend to be,” Hirrek said, slowly getting back to his hands and knees.

“What does he think he is, then?” asked the second man.

“He thinks he’s doing his best for his people,” Hirrek said, speaking slowly and trying to get a good feeling for where his attackers were. The two younger ones were on either side of him now, while the older man stood a few feet in front of him. They weren’t thinking this through very well. “The best for the Neldathi people. All of them.”

“He’s not got the right,” the third man said, before he tried to kick Hirrek one more time.

This time he was ready. Hirrek lunged forward just as the kick came. The man’s foot glanced harmlessly off his lower leg while Hirrek sprang on the older man. He was taken completely by surprise and was driven to the ground by Hirrek’s charge. Hirrek wasted little time exploiting his advantage, punching him twice in the face and knocking him out.

He stood and readied himself for the others, but neither had come to the aid of their master. They stood with fists raised, poised on the balls of their feet, but neither moved.

“I don’t have any business with you,” Hirrek said, eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. “But him, I need to talk to.” He kicked at the foot of their master. “That means either you can leave or I can make you leave, since I don’t need either one of you to make it through the night. Understand?”

It was an empty threat. He was outnumbered and wasn’t carrying a weapon. He didn’t want to be known as walking through the city interrogating people with a knife in his hand, so he’d intentionally gone out without anything threatening in his possession. He’d give anything to have one secreted away in one of his furs. He just hoped that the others thought he was armed.

They looked at each other, then dropped their fists and took a few steps back.

“Don’t want to have nothing to do with you,” the first one said. “Right?”

“Right,” said the big one.

They turned and walked off together, hurrying but not running back to the crowd, the noise, and the fire.

Hirrek grabbed the other man, still thoroughly unconscious, under each arm and began to drag him through the snow toward the center of the city.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents! Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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On Storytelling and Stakes

The wife and I went to see Logan, the last of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine appearances, the weekend it came out. It’s really excellent and reminded me of how good the 2013 entry, The Wolverine, was (the original origin story in 2009, not so much). In fact, I’d go so far as to say that those two movies are among my favorites of all the modern era superhero movies. I tried to figure out what that was, if there was something about them that really set them apart from, say, something in the Avengers canon or one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman flicks. Turns out, I think it’s because they’re smaller movies. Or, at least, the stakes involved are small enough that you can actually care about them.

I first noticed this in connection with Star Trek. Think about it – in the original series the jeopardy in each episode was usually faced by either Kirk, Spock, or McCoy or some combination thereof. A few episodes extended to other crew members and, on a very rare occasion, to the entire Enterprise. But the show never really tasked our heroes with something so grand as saving Earth or the galaxy or whatnot. The only thing in that area that jumps to mind is “City on the Edge of Forever,” which did involve setting the universe right, but, critically, the real drama was all about the main trio and, specifically, whether Kirk can let his love interest die as she must to set things right.

When we get to the movies, though, the stakes became increasingly high. How many of them involve some Earth-shattering baddie that only the Enterprise crew can stop (where is the rest of Starfleet at these times, anyway?). Paradoxically, that actually ramps down the tension, because who really thinks our heroes aren’t going to literally save the universe? An example proves the point – what’s almost universally hailed as the best of the Trek flicks? The Wrath of Khan. Which is, at its heart, about Kirk and an old foe battling it out until the end (universe altering tech in the background to one side).

Returning to The Wolverine and Logan, in both those flicks the stakes are fairly low, in terms of superhero movies. They play more like short stories, side plots in a bigger novel wherein the fate of the world hangs in the balance. But when it’s just the fate of a few (including our hero), things hit a lot closer to home. In other words, it’s easier (for me, at least) to become emotionally invested in the fate of Logan and his young charge than it is to really care whether a gaggle of X-persons stop Apocalypse because, come one, of course they will.

Although it’s horrific, the old adage attributed to Stalin (who would know from horrifics) that “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic” is true. It’s easier for people to empathize with a single other human being rather than a large group defined by broad common traits. The same is true in fiction. Sometimes you make a bigger impact by telling a smaller story.

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Author Interview – R.G. Yoho

Joining me this time is R.G Yoho – West Virginia native and Ohio resident with a deep connection to the West.

Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?

Hi there. My name is R.G. Yoho. Most people call me “Bob.” I was born in Parkersburg, WV, but, as a child, my father moved us to another cattle farm across the river from there, in Little Hocking, Ohio. I now live in another part of that huge metropolitan area of Little Hocking. And although I live in Ohio, I will ALWAYS be nothing other than a proud West Virginian. I have published three non-fiction works, one book of historical fiction, and five traditional Westerns.

What is it about Westerns that appeals to you? Particularly since you neither grew up nor live in the West?

What appeals to me? The short answer: I don’t know.

I will, however, state that the West has ALWAYS appealed to those who were born elsewhere. Many of the Old West’s most prominent figures were not originally from the West.

Annie Oakley was born in Ohio. Doc Holliday was from Georgia. James Butler Hickok and Wyatt Earp were from Illinois. Billy the Kid was from New York, Pat Garrett was from Alabama. Bat Masterson was born in Canada.

Perhaps my personal interest has a little something to do with growing up around cows. You cannot possibly understand our country’s Westward experience without knowing how critically important cattle were to the development and expansion of the West.

In the turbulent era of Reconstruction immediately following the Civil War, they weren’t only a major food source; cattle drives also drove the American economy. They led to the expansion of the railroads. Cattle provided employment for many poor Southerners, former Confederates and former slaves alike, both seeking to make a new life for themselves.

Cows and cowboys, they are so intertwined and crucial to the culture and the imagery of the American West. They are a part of the mythology, the symbolism, the rugged individualism, the heroism, and the reality of the West. And in a larger sense, they also largely defined the United States in the minds and eyes of the rest of the world. I particularly like that.

Arguably, the Western is the only uniquely-American form of literature. I am proud to be a part of it. There you have it. So much for the short answer.

Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.

My most recent work was Return to Matewan, which deals with the West Virginia coal mine wars of the early Twentieth Century. Despite the fact my books generally have a number of historical characters or incidents, this is the first one I would truly call historical fiction. The coal mine wars were an absolutely fascinating period in American and West Virginia history. In addition, the time period and the subject matter won’t make it a great departure from my Westerns.

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In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?

First and foremost, I am a Western author. Even though my interests might occasionally take me in a different direction, I will always return to my first love, the Western.

My passion for them is a direct result of my dad’s influence. He started us off early on John Wayne films and television series, like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide. He rarely left for work without a Louis L’Amour paperback in his lunch bucket. I eventually read one of them, a book called Flint. It was then I became hooked on the genre.

Later, I realized that L’Amour wasn’t a young man and I wondered who would write books like that when he passed off the scene. I eventually reached the conclusion: Why not me?

Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.

Ideas come easily to me. I have more of them than I have time to write them. But every book becomes extremely difficult in the pages from about 10-100. That is when I always want to quit and go on to the next project. After that, it is a piece of cake. It’s much like when I used to run half marathons; I always finished strong.

Unlike a lot of potential authors, I’m much better at finishing books than I am at starting them. Approaching the finish, I smell blood in the water. And when that happens, my wife often has to remind me that there are other things in life needing my attention.

Also, I revise constantly while writing. I only do one draft, if you can call it that. I constantly reread and rewrite a sentence or a paragraph until it suits me. I don’t move on until I’m satisfied it is the best I can write at that moment in time. By the time I’m ready to turn over the book to my publisher, I’m sick of it. I don’t care if I ever see it again. That feeling is gone by publication.

I understand what you say about pages 10-100 being a slog. So what do you do when you’re in that zone and need to keep yourself moving?

Perhaps the greatest benefit of having successfully completed a number of books is that there’s never really any doubt whether I can finish them. The question really involves whether or not I have the will to finish them.

Based on past experience, I know my writing progress won’t always be that stilted or difficult. The words will eventually flow like water if I only keep priming the pump.

In my own case, that means I need to park my rump in a chair and just write. Nothing meaningful was ever created without labor. And I’ve also noticed over the years that discipline often gives birth to inspiration. Some of my most inspired writing was done on the days when I started with absolutely nothing in mind; however, that is often when the struggling, wordless hours are suddenly transformed into a remarkable clarity of word and thought which is almost magical.

Once you truly understand or have personally experienced what I’m talking about, as a writer, you’ll forever hunger to recapture it. And if you are diligent in pursuing your gift, you most certainly will.

The way you describe your editing-while-writing process it sounds like you never actually read through a draft. How do you keep things straight for continuity purposes?

Unlike most of the authors I know, I never went to college to study writing. I am largely self-taught, which might not make me the best example to follow for method or technique. Maybe I never properly learned the things I shouldn’t do as an author. Maybe my writing advice should come with a warning: Do not try this at home!

I do read my books, mostly out loud, from start to finish at the end of the writing and editing process. While writing, I also read the chapters to my wife, who occasionally points out something I missed. Hearing them helps me to get a sense of the language and manner of speech, and also to recognize when it doesn’t sound right. And along the way, I make changes.

I will say that continuity isn’t a problem if you are constantly reading, re-reading, and rewriting a chapter. It tends to stay with you. And once I’ve passed Page 100 in a story, I have difficulty sleeping at night because I can’t wait to return to my story in the morning. At that point, continuity isn’t an issue; staying married is.

Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?

My favorite character would have to be Kellen Malone, who is the lead character in my ongoing series of Westerns. He’s just a man of great courage, character, and conviction, all qualities that I greatly admire in people.

He first appeared in Death Comes to Redhawk,  a stand-alone book, written almost twenty years ahead of penning the sequel. I liked Malone so much, when I returned to writing Westerns, I just had to revisit his character.

Perhaps best of all, I love his interplay, the spirited give and take between Kellen Malone and Joe Clements.

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You mention that you “returned to writing Westerns” when you decided to do a sequel for Kellen Malone. Was that more because you wanted to return to that genre or that character?

This, JD, is undoubtedly your toughest question for me to answer, because it forces me dwell on some things that I don’t much care to discuss.

Early in my writing career, sometime in the early 90’s, my literary agent had one of my Western manuscripts on the desk of a big New York publisher. But before we could actually sign a contract, they said the market for Westerns died. After that I became disheartened and stopped writing Westerns, perhaps one of the most foolhardy decisions I ever made. And that is why I say that you absolutely have to believe in yourself, above and beyond everyone else.

I did, however, publish my first book in 2001, but it wasn’t a Western. And my precious mother never lived to see me realize my great desire to see my Westerns in print. It remains one of my greatest regrets in life.

My return to Westerns was primarily my second attempt to enter the world of Western fiction. It began with a retooling of Death Comes to Redhawk, which reintroduced me to Kellen Malone. I wrote one entirely new scene for the book and refashioned the ending.

Revisiting Kellen Malone was like spending time with an old friend. And that experience made me want to spend more time with him. Obviously, this second attempt was much more successful for me.

You must understand that I penned Redhawk when my daughter was about 2-3 years old. My first Western was published when she was around 18-20. And when it was published, my daughter knew almost nothing about my Western writing past. She was just too young to remember and we never spoke about it.

We live with our lives as they are, not as how they might have been.

What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?

As a Western author, I am sure that my search history will probably be less bizarre than someone who writes other types of general fiction. But to answer your question, I would have to say: Serial killers in the Old West.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?

When it comes to your writing, listen to everybody. Lean on everybody. Learn from everybody, but don’t believe in anybody but yourself. You must determine and define for yourself what success looks like. Nobody else but you can map out the pathway for YOUR success. Trust your instincts. Make your own way. And don’t let anything or anybody stop you from getting there.

If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?

It’s strange you asked this question, because my wife and I have often spoken about what it would take for me to leave right now. It’s a fun question to think about, but despite my time around cows and horses, I haven’t experienced any success at roping unicorns or rainbows.

The answer might be different if I was younger, but at this stage of my life, $1 million would absolutely guarantee that I would quit my full-time job. Half that much would do the same thing for me. I might even seriously consider it for a quarter of $1 million. But $1 million? You might be taking your life in your hands if you were standing anywhere between me and the gate!
And with those significant and time-consuming obstacles removed from my life, I could devote those same hours to writing more books. It would increase my production to no less than two books a year and perhaps three. I would also have the time and the money to make at least one additional trip out West per year, which would allow me much more time for research.

Perhaps best of all, I could devote all of this time to writing, without stealing any more time away from my wife, the most precious thing in my life, who will be celebrating our 35th  wedding anniversary in 2017.

You mention trips out West. Have those always been research? Vacation? A mix of both?

A number of years ago, I took my entire family on a vacation out West. Other than working trips for my employer, that was my first time in the West.  I loved it.

The Western Writers of America have their yearly conventions during the summer. They also rotate the events from city-to-city, state-to-state. Two years ago, we were in Lubbock, TX, and last year we were in Cheyenne, WY. This year is in Kansas City, MO, and Billings, MT, in 2018.

At the end of these conferences, I always try to take some days to research and explore the areas around our conventions sites. When it comes to writing, there’s just nothing that will compare to walking the places your characters walk. Even better  is when you have the chance to actually touch history, like when I sat down to breakfast at Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel in Cody, WY, eating upon the original cherry wood bar, a gift to Cody from Queen Victoria and shipped across the seas, after his Wild West Shows in Europe.

In Texas, I rented a horse and rode down into Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the country. While in Wyoming, I drove across the state to Cody. I had the chance to ride on Cedar Mountain, which some say is haunted by spirits. Although Wild Bill Cody isn’t buried there, his 1906 will stated that it was the place he wished to be buried. And I can certainly understand the attraction it must have held for him.

I also attended the Tucson Book Festival a couple of years ago, and made my way down to visit Tombstone, the stomping grounds of Wyatt and Doc.

Now, whenever I go out West, I always try to see some of the area on horseback. It’s become something of a tradition with me. There’s probably not a better way to see the West than the way people of that time saw it, looking through the ears of a horse.

I absolutely love the West; I feel completely at home there. My publisher even stated that I was “born in the wrong century.” And if I have my way, I will eventually make my home somewhere around Tucson from January through March.

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 What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?

Ride the Wind.

Lucia St. Clair Robson isn’t by any means a new author or strictly a Western writer, but her work is certainly new to me. Moreover, I probably wouldn’t have begun reading her work had I not gotten the rare opportunity to know her.

Last year at the Western Writers Convention in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I learned Lucia was seeking a ride to Thermopolis and I was going all the way to Cody. I gave her a lift, which allowed me to spend no less than 5-6 hours with her that day. I gained another close friend and the experience forever transformed my ideas about historical fiction.

 What do you think you’re next project will be?

In my last Western, The Evil Day, one or more of the characters suffers a great loss. Those kinds of personal tragedies cannot help but make some profound changes in an individual’s life. They can also break him, perhaps beyond repair. I want to explore those changes—and their aftermath—for him and the other characters involved.

Connect With R.G. Yoho on Facebook or at his Website

Water Road Wednesday – Second Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Rurek arrives in Modrozon Crossing looking for someone. Not a friend, but a familiar face from readers of The Endless Hills – the thief turned soldier Martoh. In between, these two have developed a little bit of bad blood.

 Martoh sits down:

“Well, well, well,” he said, looking very satisfied with himself. “I believe the words were, ‘I’ll never come anywhere near this place again, you filthy criminal.’ Was that about right, Rurek?” While he spoke, he fiddled with the bracelet on his wrist.

Rurek cleared his throat. “Nice to see you too, Martoh. Believe me, when I said that I meant it. If circumstances were any different I wouldn’t be here.”

“Then I am truly touched that, in your hour of need, you found your way back here.” He signaled to someone, and a drink, some kind of deep-green alcohol, arrived within moments. “Have you had the ordem? It is a local specialty, requires a special kind of grain that grows wild around here. Very strong, but a wonderfully complex flavor, if you can handle it.” He took a long, slow sip and set the glass down on the table. “The girl is fine, by the way. I thought you might like to know.”

“I don’t care.” That was a lie. There wasn’t a night he didn’t think about the little girl and what her life was like in Wellston. He wasn’t about to let Martoh know that, however.

Martoh shrugged. “So be it. What, then, brings you so low that you would go back on your word and return to Modrozon Crossing, to this pub, and seek me out? I hope you did not gamble away all that money. It was so hard-earned.”

“After a fashion,” Rurek said, stifling a chuckle. “I got the money I needed to do what I needed to do. Problem is, now I’m not sure what to do with what I’ve got.”

“How cryptic. If you will not tell me what the problem is, I cannot help you.”

“Except I don’t really trust you.”

“You must trust me a little, Rurek, or you would have gone somewhere else. Did I cheat you? Did I tell you I would pay and then not pay, or pay less than we agreed?”

“No.” Rurek had to admit that.

“Did I lie to you about the nature of the work? And I mean lie, Rurek, really tell you something that was not true?”

“You didn’t tell me—”

Martoh raised a hand. “I told you what you needed to know to complete the task. Entirely accurate information. That you did not ask more questions, better questions, before taking my money is not my fault. You needed the money badly enough to keep you from asking those questions.”

“You’re being overly technical.”

“Overly technical is what put me in prison. Why should I not use it to my advantage now?”

Rurek knew Martoh had been in prison before the war and that he didn’t think he belonged there, but he didn’t know details. He didn’t want to know. “If that’s how you want to live your life.”

“It is.” Martoh sat back, looked out the window, and smiled. “Now that our reunion is out of the way, what is it that you think I might do for you?”

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents!. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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