Today I am pleased to introduce an award-winning author of short stories and western novels. Carol Crigger’s newest book, Two Feet Below, is now available at Amazon, Oak Tree Press, and through bookstores everywhere.
1. Carol, I’m fascinated to learn more about your Western series. What inspired you to create in this genre?
My Dad and Mom read the old westerns by the ton. They had stacks of them stored in the tack room, cheap and ready entertainment bought during the 40s, 50s, and even the 60s. The winters grew long in the country (I’m a country girl) before my folks bought a television. Consequently, westerns were my first reading material and included magazines like Ranch Romances. When I began writing, my series featuring time-traveling gunsmith Boothenay Irons seemed to contain some of the same elements as a western, and of course, being a westerner myself, they were set here—except when my heroine time-traveled hither and yon. It was only a short step to creating a more traditional western after that, especially as I love local history.
2. Your surroundings sound lovely. Are your books and stories set in the area where you live?
You bet I set my stories here. Maybe I’m partial, but I think Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho are both beautiful and under-utilized as settings. When people think of Spokane—if they ever do—many will associate us with Seattle. Not so. We have a different mind-set on the eastern side of the Cascades. We call this the dry side of the state. We have high mountains, many, many beautiful lakes and rivers, as well as timberland, farmland, and scabland…the desert-like region west of Spokane. Need a great setting for a story or, for that matter, to film a movie? You’ll find it here. My latest, the newly released western suspense, TWO FEET BELOW, takes place mostly in North Idaho, on Coeur d’Alene Lake, and in Wallace, a rowdy old silver mining town. Silver is still coming from the mines discovered in the 1880s.
3. I love the sound of your world. Truly the perfect setting for westerns. I understand, too, that you offer workshops. What can you tell us about them?
Much to my own surprise, I’ve discovered I rather like going around to writers groups or clubs or libraries and talking about writing, or dogs, or homesteaders or whatever. Am I an expert? No, but I do have a fairly good grounding in the subjects I’ve chosen. And hopefully, if nothing else, I can help beginning writers with something as basic as manuscript preparation, give them an idea for research or subject matter, or inspire them to keep trying. I wish I could find more bookings.
4. Your dogs seem to inspire some of your characters, as well. Do you imbue the dog characters with their own “voices”?
My dogs do not “speak” as such. Just as in real life, they are faithful, important companions to my characters, and they do often play a real role in my stories. My dogs are central to my life, so I can’t ignore their presence in a story. I like to use different purebreds, and sometimes mixed breeds. I used a huge herd dog in Letter of the Law, which could have been any one of several breeds. He was white, so take your choice. In my Gunsmith series, I use a Plott hound and briards. In the China Bohannon series, it’s a Bedlington terrier (One Foot on the Edge, & Two Feet Below). I’m writing a mystery with a Samoyed and a shih tzu. Another is planned with a toy Pomeranian. A completed apocalyptic novel has Karelian bear dogs. How many of these breeds am I personally acquainted with? Plott hounds, Samoyeds, shih tzu, and Poms. My shih tzu is named after a character in one of my books, Tomasella in The Prince’s Cousin.
5. I’d love to hear more about the idea of “power in naming your characters.” What can you share with us?
I believe, first of all, the name should fit the character. For instance, I can’t visualize a superhero named Bob. Bob is a perfectly good name, but not for a rip-roaring hero. I can’t imagine a woman with ten kids, who lives in a tar-paper shack and wears a flour-sack dress, with the name of Tiffany. When I’m writing a book, the names have to resonate with my vision. Also, as someone who writes historical stories a good part of the time, I have to make certain the name was actually used in that period. Most names have been around a while, although the spelling may have had a drastic incarnation. I like to use unusual names for my main characters, but nothing that is hard to pronounce. In one of my books, I had to change the woman’s name three times before her character became clear. Some power in a simple name!
6. What does “talking Western” mean?
Westerners created their own vernacular and in some cases, acquired their own accent. While western movies would have you believe everyone spoke with a southern style accent, it tain’t so. With the discovery of gold and free land, people from all parts of this country moved west. They were enthusiastically joined by the Irish, English, middle-Europeans, Scandinavians, Italians, Hispanics and even Sandwich Islanders searching for the same opportunities. True, lots of southerners rode west after the Civil War, but they joined an already diverse bunch. That said, talking western for purposes of writing westerns mean incorporating the idiomatic words and expressions useful for people in the time and the place of which you’re writing. Carried further, this holds true for any kind of writing. You’ll want to add the local expressions and the words pertaining the employment of your characters in your stories. Just make sure of the time period and setting, please.
7. I noticed your World Walking blog, and about a news feature editor grubbing the archives for old stories. Do you sometimes find inspiration in the news?
Absolutely. I’m an inveterate newspaper clipper. My husband better get hold of it first, because it’s likely to be trashed before I’m done. I especially love the old photos, but I’ve gotten clue ideas for a murder, learned a little about making a spy bug, kept fairly current on new technology—not just electronics, but medical research and much more—learned about politics and the workings of government (ICK!). Will I use all this stuff? Never in my lifetime, but it’s there if I need it. Besides, I adore trivia. I’d love to try out for Jeopardy.
8. What can you share with us about how you choose your characters for your books and stories?
This is the eternal question for writers, isn’t it? Kind of a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” thing. Sometimes the character chooses the story, as did my time-traveling adventuress, Boothenay Irons of the Gunsmith series. She’s my kick-ass alter ego, someone who I’d wish to be if such things were possible. China Bohannon and her western suspense stories sort of evolved together. Boothenay and China are both central characters, with the rest of the cast revolving around them. Most of my other main characters are more willing to share the limelight with others. If the plot idea comes first, and in many of my westerns it does, then the characters are chosen to fit into the story. The cast of Black Crossing is one of my favorites, with the male lead a little older, tireder, and a lot more flawed, and his female counterpart carrying a load almost more than she can bear. The lynching of an innocent young man barely out of boyhood occurred to me one day. That was the story and the characters evolved after. Black Crossing is my 2008 Eppie Award winner. Characters must fit their time period, their actions and abilities should be realistic, and their names should be congruent with the era and match their personality. I’m not sure how names match personalities, but to me they do.
9. Who, or what has been your biggest inspiration?
Hmm. This is a hard question and I don’t know that my answer involves actual inspiration. I think you’re asking me, “What makes you want to write?” and I guess I’d say, dogged determination and a certain stubbornness. That and all those plots and voices wanting to get out of my head.
10. I can completely relate to that! Now, I know that others want to know this one, too: what is your usual writing day like?
I’m more casual about a schedule than I used to be. I used to be fairly strict about it. Now I write when it’s convenient, and since I don’t do much else, I write every day, even if only an hour or two. Somedays I get on a roll, other days not so much. Seems like the words add up in a satisfactory manner though, and if the time ever comes that I need more discipline, it won’t be a problem. My first books were written on a schedule of 7 – 9 p.m. weekdays, and on weekends.
11. Do you have a favorite writing space?
I have a basement office, more commonly called my hole in the ground. And though I’m not a fan of basements, I’m seldom interrupted and it’s quiet. I recently lost my little writing buddy, my Lily cat, and I’m trying to adjust to typing without bowing my arms and craning my neck around her as she sat in front of the screen. She’d been with me throughout my writing career and I miss her dreadfully. My dogs don’t really like the basement. They don’t do stairs.
12. What, if anything, can you tell us about what’s up next for you?
Ideas for stories bubble up in my head so fast it’s hard to keep track. I just finished the fifth Boothenay Irons book, for which I’m looking for an agent, and I’ll have to see how Two Feet Below goes with Oak Tree Press before I do anything else with China Bohannon. I have a third in that series already written. I’m working on a contemporary mystery now. Otherwise, I have the beginnings of a plot for a historical set in the prohibition era, that will include a lot of bootlegging and some bush horse racing.
Wow, you are a very busy lady, with your writing, your workshops, and life. Thank you so much for joining us today…I hope you’ll visit us often!