A while back, I asked for questions from readers. It took quite some time, but I finally assembled enough of them to compile this blog.
Question: Is Forgive Us Our Trespasses based on something in your life?
Answer: Of my four novels to date, this is probably the least based on my own experience, though that’s a hard call because The Audacity of Dope and Crazy of Natural Causes were both stories that were mostly made up. My life, while richly dysfunctional, isn’t interesting enough to sustain a career.
In the former, I used some experience I had writing about singers and songwriters in a book called True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed. In the latter, I used some of the observations from a career writing about sports.
The second novel, The Intangibles, drew on some of my own experiences as a boy. I doubt I’ll ever feel closer to a topic than that.
Q: Why write fiction?
A: I love it. During twenty years of writing about auto racing — I still write free-lance columns — I wrote several books about NASCAR. For me, it was a long process that was planned ahead of time but took much longer to execute.
In the 1980s, I wrote a book about high school football and drew on my history degree to do the research. What that book, Pride of Clinton (now long out of print), did for me is give me the confidence that I could write books. From 1993 through 2012, I traveled all over the country to NASCAR races and wrote several books and contributed to others. Then, using all that travel, I wrote a book about music, True to the Roots, and that experience inspired me in many ways. It was sort of transformative and led to my first novel, The Audacity of Dope (2011). I couldn’t have invented Riley Mansfield had I not gotten a chance to get to know musicians and songwriters.
The Intangibles pays homage to my boyhood, though it’s not exactly a feel-good story. Crazy of Natural Causes took me to another region, the hills of Kentucky, where I have musician friends. Forgive Us Our Trespasses brings me back to a town like the one I live in, though I’ve never known anyone in Clinton anywhere near as sinister as the ones in the Latimohr of the book.
Q: Why do you take a different direction in every book?
A: Because it’s really hard to write a novel, and I just can’t do it if I’m not in love with the story, and I think I’m also in love with variety. If I could write a series of Riley Mansfield adventures, or Hal Kinley crime novels, I would, but by the time I tell their story, I’m tired of them and ready to move on to some new character.
Q: Why do you write so much about people who use drugs?
A: Because people use drugs. I don’t consider it my job to write about what people ought to do. I try to depict them as they are. My novels’ heroes aren’t saints, but they’re decent people with human frailties. I want them to be likable but imperfect because that’s the way most of the people I know are. My characters have to deal with issues that take them by surprise — a football coach whose wife leaves him for a woman, a pot-smoking singer who doesn’t want to be a hero but has no choice, a football coach whose job it is to turn racial strife into a unifying force, a good cop who becomes obsessed with stopping a monster as a means of rescuing his son. Et cetera. Et cetera.
Q: What’s next?
A: I’ve just about finished the first draft of a modern western called Cowboys Come Home. I’d just about finished it at the point where Forgive Us Our Trespasses was released, and then I spent a lot of time, mostly trials and errors, laying out Trespasses and Crazy of Natural Causes for print editions. I was kind of racing to finish the Cowboys draft when the deluge hit, so to speak, so now I’ve got to go back and refamiliarize myself with everything that has happened, and write the final two or three chapters.
Cowboys is set at the end of World War II. Two Texans return home as war heroes, changed by the horrors of war and interested in returning to their former way of life. That’s impossible, and, almost immediately, they become embroiled in a maelstrom of conflict between oilmen and cattle ranchers, war profiteers and criminals.
It’s my second trip back into time. The Intangibles is set mostly in 1968. It’s also my second trip away from home. Crazy of Natural Causes takes place mostly in Kentucky. The events of Cowboys are in Texas and Oklahoma.
Cowboys Come Home has been meandering around for quite some time. I abandoned it to write Crazy of Natural Causes, thinking at the time I might never finish it. It stayed gentle on my mind, however, and evolved in a way that rekindled my interest.
The idea of a modern western grew out of my love for Larry McMurtry’s Leaving Cheyenne, though the plot of that wonderful novel has almost nothing to do with this one.
To one extent or another, most people fear the fencing off of their frontiers.
Q: What about your new volume of short stories?
A: I have to confess. I compiled Longer Songs as a refresher course in layout and and design. I’ve written many short stories. I chose the eleven that grew out of songs I’d written. A few are very long. One is quite short. Most are, oh, in between. I run into a lot of people, both in person and online, who say they don’t have the time to read novels. When between books, trying to decide which I’ll read next, I often bide my time reading from a volume of poetry.
I thought Longer Songs might be appealing to people who don’t want to commit to one of my novels but might enjoy sampling shorter, self-contained stories. It’s a way to entice people to take the next leap of faith, but I find writing short stories fun. They don’t carry with them the organizational snarl of novels.
If you’re interested in my sportswriting and non-fiction, visit www.montedutton.com.
You can find me on Twitter @montedutton (general), @hmdutton (stressing writing) and @wastedpilgrim (a bit more outspoken). I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton. Thanks for your support.