Since childhood, I've been an avid fiction reader. In grad school at the University of Iowa, I taught Writer's Workshop students to print their own chapbooks of fiction and poetry. I also hand-printed letterpress posters for famed Writer's Workshop writers, John Barth, John Irving, Philip Levine, Marilynne Robinson, many others.
Like creative osmosis, that rarefied exposure to the world's best writers inspired me to write and, in my early career, became an award-winning feature writer, magazine editor, and publisher. But my realm remained nonfiction feature writing.
While Editor-in-Chief at Celebrate! Midwest magazine, solicited great writers for essays in the magazine: Jane Smiley (Pulitzer Prize winner for A Thousand Acres), Robert Waller (The Bridges of Madison County), Garrison Keillor (Lake Wobegone, Prairie Home Companion), and others. Later, as publisher of The Writer's Handbook , I worked with Elmore Leonard, John Updike, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Rice, Tony Hillman, Frank McCourt, and others. With that impetus, I finally took the leap into fiction writing.
Like most born to write, stories have long simmered in my psyche. Growing up in Iowa farm country, I knew many "characters." I also worked in a nursing home in high school and heard stories of hardship, struggles during the Depression, immigrant tales, generational folk tales, even family secrets. They were grist for my imagination
But, what inspired me most were the stories of and remnants from Native American life on the Iowa prairie before whites overran the land. I rode my horse on country gravel roads through a sweeping river valley where a herd of Appaloosas grazed. I fell in love with the spotted horses, then with the amazing Indian tribe that bred them, the Nez Perce.
The Nez Perce saved Lewis and Clark from starvation and freezing to death in the Bitterroot Mountains. After nursing them back to health, they showed the explorers the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean. But, by doing so, them opened the floodgates to white invasion of the continent. The Nez Perce, under the leadership of the iconic Chief Joseph, were one of the last tribes to capitulate to whites, but only after a heroic and heart-breaking struggle.
ABOUT MY NOVEL
My novel, Blood to Rubies, is an epic western of the cataclysm between Manifest Destiny and native Indian sovereignty--specifically the Nez Perce--telescoped through the intimate stories and photographs of frontier photographer, Frederick Cortland. Frederick grows up in St. Joseph, Missouri, the starting point for westering pioneers. Thirsting for adventure and steeped in the tales of Lewis and Clark, he longs to see the wilderness and Indians in the flesh. To escape serving in the Civil War, he joins a wagon train on the Oregon Trail and photographs pioneers, Indians, and the essence of their daily frontier life. He chronicles, too, the lurid underbelly of humanity, freak shows and circuses, hangings and death, soiled doves and the Oriental slave trade. He begins to feel more a voyeurthan an adventurer.
In the Bitterroot Mountains, he spies a naked Irish immigrant woman, Sorrel Lanning, in a lake and photographs her. After what seems ten lifetimes on the trail, Frederick settles in nearby Spotted Horse, Idaho, and starts a photography business. He becomes obsessed with Sorrel and keeps her clandestine nude photographs in a secret Chinese box. In Spotted Horse, he befriends the local Nez Perce—the tribe that saved Lewis and Clark from starvation—and young Chief Joseph.
Frederick’s role as photographer—and voyeur—becomes pathological. He witnesses the lives of both Sorrel and the Nez Perce tribe unravel in tortuous irony. And he feels complicit in the fates of both the woman he loved and the Nez Perce he so admired.