Stephanie: Rebecca Lawton is an author and naturalist whose essays, poems, and stories have been published in Orion, Sierra, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Shenandoah, Standing Wave, THEMA, the acorn, More, and other journals. She has received the Ellen Meloy Fund Award for Desert Writers, three Pushcart Prize nominations (in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry), and residencies at The Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, and Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers in Langley, Washington. Becca was among the first women whitewater guides on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and on other rivers in the West. Her essay collection on the guiding life, Reading Water: Lessons from the River (Capital Books), was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Her novel, Junction, Utah, set in the beautiful and resource-rich Green River valley, was released in early 2013 by van Haitsma Literary as an original e-book and later in 2013 as a softcover book (Wavegirl). With Geoff Fricker, Rebecca is co-author of the forthcoming Sacrament: Homage to a River (Heyday, 2014), and her first collection of short stories, Steelies and Other Endangered Species, is due out from Little Curlew Press in 2014.
Hello Becca! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion. Please tell me about your book, Junction, Utah.
Becca: Hi Stephanie! Thank you for hosting me. I’m thrilled to receive the BRAG Medallion, as it’s clear from the Indie BRAG website that the books you recognize are very high quality. I’m happy to be among the honorees!
Junction, Utah, is a romance and adventure story set in the river valleys of Utah and other parts of the West. It’s based on my years as a river guide and a geologist working in some of the settings in the book. It’s also a work of ecofiction. I became concerned as I worked out there that oil and gas exploration as it was being conducted was going to ruin the place—both the fabric of the community and the integrity of the wilderness. I wanted to tell a story that would draw readers into the lives of characters based on real people and wildlife living in these places time had otherwise forgotten—and where the way of life is as beautiful as the land.
Stephanie: Sounds wonderful and I do like stories that are based on real people and places. Please tell me about your character Madeline Kruse. What are her strengths and weaknesses?
Becca: Madeline is a twenty-nine year old river guide who, even at that relatively young age, is a long-time veteran of rivers. She’s never known her father, who has been missing since going to fight in the Vietnam War, and her concern for her mother’s fragile health sends Madeline on a bit of a quest. She finds her way to Junction to work a season as a guide and discovers that many of the issues she’s run from in her home state of Oregon are in full play in Utah as well. She’s a fairly voiceless character through much of the story, and she undergoes transformation, as any good protagonist should.
Stephanie: Is there a moral to the story? What would it be?
Becca: We’re more alike than we think, in this fractured, dangerous time for our planet. Working together is the only way to save our race and other creatures. Truly.
Stephanie: I would agree with you. What was your inspiration for your story?
Becca: I didn’t want to preach, but I did want to create awareness about the fragility of our wild world. One thing I’d learned through years of working as a river guide and scientist is how vulnerable natural systems are to change—much more vulnerable than I thought as a young person just getting to know them. A single road cut into a wilderness area causes a stream to start incising, or deeply eroding, its bed. Really, we humans have been changing the world for a long time. We’re only now understanding how unstable nature is in light of our impacts. The changes that come to community, too, are just as intriguing to me, and important. I wanted to write about both.
As a friend of mine has said, however, the novel is not “thinly veiled proselytizing.” It’s a story first and foremost, with three acts, a narrative arc, characters who become real to the reader, and settings you’ll never forget. It’s a page turner above all.
Stephanie: What do you find most challenging about writing?
Becca: Sitting still. Some writers have figured out how to write while walking on treadmills, riding stationary bikes, you name it. I write well while strolling in nature with a notebook in hand. But some of the hard work just has to be done indoors at my desk, and that’s been a tough transformation for me, an active person, to have to put myself in a chair and stay there for periods of time.
Stephanie: I would have to agree with you. It is even hard for me to sit still while reading sometimes. Most of my reading is while I am on my stationary bike. When I write, I get up and pace while thinking about what I want to say next or how I want to structure my next paragraph or scene. How long have you been a writer? What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a writer?
Becca: I started writing the character sketches for Junction in 1979, for a creative writing class I was taking while living in the Rogue River Valley, Oregon. Scenes from both Utah and Oregon made their way into the book, and they stuck. Before then—really, as far back as grade school—I’d written articles and stories for school publications, and then for adventure/river journals once I became a river guide, but nothing book length.
Good advice: figure out how you’ll happily support your habit, in case your books don’t cover the rent. Achieving balance with other work is critical. Maybe you’ll be one of those writers who doesn’t have to keep her day job. If so, wonderful. But be prepared to be good at something else as well.
Stephanie: That is sound advice, Becca. What book are you currently working on?
Becca: I just contracted with Little Curlew Press in Florida to publish Steelies and Other Endangered Species, a collection of short stories about water and our relationship to it in a changing world. We’ll have a lot of work to bring that out together, and I’m looking forward to it. Meanwhile I’m adapting a play from the title story from that collection, “Steelies.” I’ve written plays before, but this is the first one I’ve worked on that I feel certain will be produced. Meanwhile I have two nonfiction proposals in mind that I hope to have circulating among the markets in early 2014.
Stephanie: How wonderful! Looking forward to hearing more about your projects. I do love non-fiction! Tell me what you think of the self-publishing industry.
Becca: As varied and capricious as the traditional publishing world. There is incredibly good work in both industries, and there is incredibly bad stuff in both. One thing self publishing has done for authors is allow them creative expression despite the gatekeepers in New York, who have a fairly lock-step view of what’s good literature. Just as I don’t agree much with the views of those in Hollywood who dictate what constitutes good film, I’m not in alignment with the few traditional publishers who are left standing about what the public ought to be reading. But it’s up to those who self- publish to dot every, ”I” and cross every T in book writing and publishing, and to do a good job, and that’s a rare thing. The books recognized by Indie BRAG are excellent examples of how it can be done.
Stephanie: Will you self-publish again?
Becca: For me, releasing Junction first as an e-book issued by my agent and then as a print version published by my own small press has been the right journey for this particular book. Earlier versions of it were accepted by small presses, but it wasn’t really ready and those acceptances never resulted in a signed contract and a collaboration with a publisher that might have given it the editorial love it needed. After two or three false starts, I gave up on Junction more than once—and only picked it up after dreaming that an agent urged me to get back to work on it now. This was only after my agents at the time, Mike Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada (who I love and owe a huge debt of gratitude for championing my first book), decided to pass on representing it.
In getting the Junction manuscript ready for acceptance by another agent, I had to put it through arduous revision. That’s a story in itself, and I love to tell it when I teach at conferences and workshops. It took two years of revision after those first drafts that could have become a book—a different book—earlier on.
Stephanie: Please tell me some of the goals you have set for yourself as a writer? It can be anything.
Becca: I write every day, at least an hour but more commonly two. I rise on the early side, generally 6 a.m. or earlier, so I can write my wild, creative work before moving on to contract work that brings me more immediate cash. It’s a fairly tenuous existence at the moment, as I recently left a long-time job to work on my own in all arenas, so . . . it’s a grand experiment. Not sure how it will evolve. But, for me, the daily writing goal seems to work best.
Stephanie: I need to follow your writing habits. How did you discover indieBRAG?
Becca: I believe I conducted an internet search of “awards for independently published books” or something similar. I somehow found my way to Indie BRAG. I loved the look of the books that BRAG champions.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Becca: I always urge readers to go to their local independent bookstore first, to help keep their neighbors in business. If that doesn’t work, it’s easy to buy through my website, www.beccalawton.com, where you can purchase through me or be linked to the online bookstore of your choice.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Becca Lawton, who is the author of, Junction, Utah, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Junction, Utah, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.