Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interview With Wayne D. Dundee

I’m pleased to have as my guest today Wayne D. Dundee. Wayne is the author of the Joe Hannibal private eye series and the founder of Hardboiled Magazine, which over the years has featured the work of many of today’s crime writers. I think you’ll find his comments interesting and informative.
JL: Wayne, You’ve signed a contract with Oak Tree Books for your first Western novel, Dismal River, due out this year. What’s the premise of the novel?
WD: DISMAL RIVER is the tale of an 1887 expedition, funded by an English lord, venturing into Nebraska's vast, untamed Sandhills. They are guided, reluctantly, by former Indian scout Lone McGantry. The purpose of the expedition is partly pure adventure, for the English lord, and partly scientific exploration for the scientists who accompany him. Of course things do not go as planned---due to natural elements, strife and ulterior motives from within the group, and a gang of ruthless marauders in pursuit of their own agenda.

The premise was partly inspired by an actual event---an 1870 expedition of Yale paleontologists who traveled to the Sandhills in search of evidence of past inhabitants. Locally, the outing came to be called "The Bone Hunt". In fact, the Yale expedition determined that the whole Sandhills region (for much of the 1800s considered by white men to be a worthless inland desert) had once been a massive lake; and they also unearthed some marvelous fossil finds from the age of dinosaurs---bones from giant rhino-like creatures, giant tortoises, mastodon remains, etc. Another inspiration was a coinciding legend from the Pawnee Indians that tells of a race of giant men created by the Great Spirit who once lived in the region. But they were so large and powerful that they defied the Spirit so he had to wipe them out with a great flood (sound familiar?) and start over with a race of smaller, more manageable beings. Giving credence to this---and a reference I include in my novel---was a story told by none other than Buffalo Bill Cody (who wasn't above embellishing things more than a little bit). Cody claimed that once on a scouting expedition for the Army he'd been brought some giant bones by the Pawnee braves accompanying him and that these bones were identified by an Army medic also in the group as being human in nature. But at the time Cody's outfit didn't have the means to transport the bones and they were never found again.

JL: For years we’ve been hearing the Western is dead. What’s your take on that?

WD: Pretty much the same way I feel when I hear that PI fiction---the other genre I write in---is dead. I stubbornly refuse (more with my heart than my head perhaps) to believe it.

As far as Westerns, I fear there were a couple of generations---those currently in their teens and twenties---who were "tuned out" from them, possibly simply due to lack of exposure. Now, however, with the recent box office success of the TRUE GRIT remake and hits like 3:10 TO YUMA and the DEADWOOD TV series, maybe that window is opening again. Hell, there's even a video game called RED DEAD REDEMPTION that is hugely popular and next they're coming out with a big budget movie called COWBOYS VS. ALIENS.

Maybe that's a little too much cross-pollination or bastardization or whatever you want to call it, but if it sparks renewed interest in more traditional Westerns then I'll take it. Hard to believe that the sweep and grandeur of the Old West and the world-renowned image of the iconic American Cowboy won't always have an appeal to some portion of the reading/movie-going public.

JL: What was it drew you to write a Western? Could part of the inspiration have been your move from the Midwest to the wilder terrain of Nebraska?

WD: I've long had a "hankering" to do some Westerns. Back in the early ‘90s I wrote a short story and a novel (not DISMAL RIVER) that were never published. But moving out here to west central Nebraska certainly re-vitalized my interest in the genre. The cowboy spirit is still very much alive out here, and the whole area is rich in the history of the Old West. The Platte River valley, where I live, was the natural highway followed by mountain men, wagon trains, the Pony Express, the Union Pacific railroad, and on and on. I can practically step out my back door and stand in wagon ruts left over from the Oregon Trail ... Oh yeah, this area is inspiring indeed. When we first decided to move out here (relocating with the company I worked for nearly four decades) both my late wife and I knew that a big reason I was keen to make the move was because the little kid in me would be coming to "cowboy country".

JL: I know you’ve written a number of short stories featuring him recently, but is there another Joe Hannibal novel awaiting publication?

WD: Yeah, the seventh Hannibal novel, GOSHEN HOLE, has been completed for some time. (And the eighth, BLADE OF THE TIGER, is already underway.) I thought I had a publication deal for GOSHEN early on, but that fell through and so far I haven't found a new home for it. I'm giving some serious thought to publishing GOSHEN HOLE as an e-book original, in conjunction with the re-release of earlier titles in the series. We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I'm continuing to keep Joe in shape by putting him through his paces in a series of short stories.

JL: How do you plot your novels? Are you an outliner or a pantser? Would you give us some insight into your writing routine?

WD: Wow, I have a number of writing quirks that I wouldn't necessarily recommend for anybody else to follow. I start with the bare bones of a premise (or plot, if you will) and a title---I can't write very far without knowing my title (quirk #1). The title, I feel, sets the tone for the story and provides a thrust and a flow that everything streams toward.
I don't outline per se`. What I *do* do (quirk #2) is write out my "cast of characters" and add a blurb telling a little about each and/or how they will fit into the story. It goes like this: Joe Hannibal - tough private eye; Abby Bridger - Joe's lady friend; Widow Hardluck - the lonely, unsuspecting old woman whose property hides a rich treasure; Snidley Sleazeball - the lowdown skunk who's out to bilk the widow out of her treasure; etc. Unless demanded by the publisher, that's as close to an outline as I come.

As far as my writing "routine" I'm afraid it's not very disciplined either. If I'm really "cooking" on a story I write almost every spare minute. Otherwise, I do correspondence, check news, etc. in the early morning; write through mid-day to early evening; write a little more after supper. Some of this "writing", when I'm not focused on a particular story, maybe in the form of blogging or book reviews.

JL: You’ve mentioned Edgar Rice Burroughs and Mickey Spillane as early writing influences. What other writers inspire you?

WD: Inspire? John D. MacDonald; Donald Hamilton; Robert E. Howard; Gordon D. Shireffs; T.V. Olson; Louis L'Amour; Jack London; Mark Twain.

There are many fine current writers whose work I admire and find inspirational in the sense that it pushes me to work harder and try to be better at the craft. But I don't want to get into a list of contemporaries due to the risk of inadvertently leaving somebody out

JL: I think we agree, writing is learned by experience; that is, doing, rather than through college or other courses of training. How do you equate life experience in contrast to educational opportunities in the development of a writer?

WD: Writing "courses" can teach you mechanics like spelling, punctuation, formatting, and so forth---but other than that I'll take life experiences, hands down. And "writing experience", by which I mean time actually spent *writing*, pounding out words, finding your voice for narration, description, dialogue, and all the rest.

If you strive to be a writer, you should automatically be a watcher and listener of the people and events around you. This accumulation of observations will eventually (sometimes subconsciously) leech into your writing and begin to give it a distinction and flavor that no course can teach you.

JL: Do you attend writers’ conferences? And, if so, any particular favorites?

WD: I attended several Bouchercons early on but then, over the past several years, had pretty much gotten away from conferences. I attended Mayhem in the Midwest last year in Omaha, however, and enjoyed it a lot. I'm sure I'll go back to that one this year, and I'm scouting for some others that, budget-wise and distance-wise (I hate flying), are feasible for me to attend.

Writing is a somewhat isolated gig (somebody once said that the word "lonely" is for other people, the word "solitude" is for writers) so it is good to get out and mingle with your peers from time to time.

JL: What advice would you give the aspiring writer?

WD: Write, write, write ... and read, read, read. Write to develop your own skills, read to study where it is you want to get to and how it is being done by others already there. Study the market, chose the right place for your work, and start submitting. Rejection slips (which you are bound to get) are learning tools and building blocks. The vast array of internet sites for fiction in all genres --- augmenting traditional publications --- amounts to a market for writers to hone their craft almost as wide open as it was in the "golden age" of pulp magazines. Dive in and swim hard to find a place for your byline!

JL: What’s your opinion on the growth of the e-novel? The state of publishing in general?

WD: I think e-books are here to stay...this coming from somebody who has always loved the physical act of holding and reading a traditional paper book. I even love riffling the pages and savoring the smell of fresh ink in a new book.
I think traditional paper publishing will continue to exist at some level.

When I first heard about e-reading devices I didn't find the concept very appealing (and probably didn't fully understand how it even worked). But, having gotten a Kindle reader for Christmas, I am now aboard as a big fan. At my age and with my tired old eyes, the advantages of holding the ultra light device in a single comfortable position, with the print set to an eye-pleasing size, and then flipping pages with a simple thumb stroke...wow, the pages fly by.

And the concept of having about a jillion books all contained in that slim device--- as opposed to all the books in all the shelves surrounding me as I write this (not to mention more piles of books stacked on every flat surface available)---yeah, the attractions of e-books are many.

As far as publishing in general? Hell, who can say. I think the big outfits will continue to struggle and the small press houses will come on stronger as long as they maintain a more personal link with their readers and treat/nurture their writers respectfully. Other than that, I don't know ... and I don't think anybody else does, either.

JL: Wayne, thanks for spending some time with us today. Readers and writers, you can learn more about Wayne and his work (including links to those new Joe Hannibal short stories mentioned above) at his website, http://www.waynedundee.com/, and his blog, http://fromdundeesdesk.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 10, 2011

Every Book Offers a Lesson

I probably have more books than many small town libraries. I haven’t read them all, but that doesn’t stop me from gathering more. There isn’t a room in my house without its assortment of books. I received a Kindle for Christmas and that provides a new and fascinating means of accumulating (and reading) books.

Admittedly, I’m the exception to the modern American, based on recent dismal statistics on the decline of reading. I like reading. I share Somerset Maugham’s opinion (The Book Bag) “I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all.”

I don’t believe one can be a writer and not be a reader.

Stephen King has said he likes to read. Now I’m not comparing myself to King—just the simple fact we both enjoy reading. But we do share the belief every book has its lesson for the writer. King has also remarked in “On Writing” that often bad books have more to teach than good ones. John Fowles made the same observation.

Fowles was a voracious reader who was guided more by his own curiosity than any authority. He read and absorbed everything—from classics to trash, from psychology to mathematics. And he found value in all he read. In his diary, he noted: “A bad novel of 1857 tells one much more about 1857 than a good one.”

Mark Twain was another constant reader. In his excellent “Mark Twain, A Life,” Ron Powers says “…he read all the time, his choices as eclectic and humanistic as his narratives would prove to be.”

Some (such as Capote) dismiss Jack Kerouac as a “typist” rather than a writer. But examine his journals and you’ll see how serious Kerouac was about reading and writing. On Oct. 17, 1949, he mentions reading Thomas Merton’s confession, the Telemachus chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses in which Stephen Dadalus expounds his theory on Hamlet’s heredity, reading Hamlet “line by line” (and also considering how he would act it), Donne’s Holy Sonnets, and “…the magnificent speeches of Ahab in Moby Dick.”

Madeleine L’Engle recalls her early school years as a “dismal experience” in which she had poor teachers and learned nothing. For solace, she turned to reading and thinking alone. Though she admits having a better educational experience in high school and college, L’Engle believes she wouldn’t have written her books had she been happy in those formative years.

Francis Bacon summed it up succinctly, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”