Today marks the first installment of a new feature here at One Bite at a Time called Twenty Questions. It’s an effort to increase OBAAT’s interest to others by letting me do as little of the writing as possible. Once every week or two authors and others of literary interest will be asked to answer as many questions as they wish from a list of twenty. Everyone gets the same questions, though the list will evolve over time. I have high hopes, especially since I plan to interview only those with more talent than I, which gives me a virtually unlimited pool from which to draw.
OBAAT is lucky to have Steve Weddle as the initial player of Twenty Questions. (It shall be noted for the record that Mr. Weddle answered all twenty questions. For those who will come after, this is not required, but, you know, he did it, and he had no idea what the questions would be in advance; the rest of you do. So, just saying…)
Why are we lucky to get Steve to kick off this venture? We didn’t just take the first guy hanging around Home Depot early in the morning who could spell “dystopia.” Steve is a founding member of Do Some Damage, possibly the most underrated writers’ collaborative blog on the web today. (It’s a daily obligatory read for me.) He’s is also a founding partner (with John Hornor Jacobs) of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, one of the leading publications of its genre. His first novel, Country Hardball, is scheduled for release next week by Tyrus Books. (This seems appropriate on multiple levels: Tyrus has a well-deserved reputation of publishing excellence, and no one played more country hardball than Tyrus Raymond Cobb.)
The period right before a launch is crazy busy for an author, so I’m delighted Steve was able to make some time to sit for OBAAT’s initial attempt to play Twenty Questions.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Country Hardball.
Steve Weddle: The book is a series of interconnected stories set in the Ark-La-Tex region and tells the stories of people who struggle to live the best lives they can.
OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
SW: I started with a couple of stories set in the region and realized that the book would be about the connections between these people, how they tie to each other and how their environment tries to define them.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Country Hardball, start to finish?
SW: I’m 43, but the book sold last year. So 42 years. The book has stories I’d heard when I was a kid, as well as stories that had started as poems when I was in college. Honestly, it’s taken my whole life to write this book.
OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
SW: When he was a teenager, Roy Alison was responsible for a car accident that killed both his parents. The book rests upon his fight to move from the troubled life that followed to being a better person.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Country Hardball set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
SW: The Ark-La-Tex is that area where those three states connect, so essentially we’re in southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana a couple years ago. This book wouldn’t exist anywhere else.
OBAAT: How did Country Hardball come to be published?
SW: After I’d written a couple Roy Alison stories, Stacia Decker, my agent, suggested that I write a Roy Alison novel. I gave that a try and some thought, but I ended up with some stories set in the region, bringing together characters and storylines that feed off each other. I got the collection together and my agent talked to editors and publishers, but nothing quite worked out for one reason or another. One afternoon, while I was home sick, my phone buzzed with an email from Stacia that Ben LeRoy at Tyrus wanted to talk to me about some thoughts he had for the book and why he thought Tyrus would be a good fit. I called him before the NyQuil had worn off.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
SW: I’m a fan of short stories, especially. Ann Beattie and Raymond Carver. Bonnie Jo Campbell and David Means. I like Charlie Huston, Sean Chercover, and Chris F. Holm. I like to think that I enjoy any type of good writing. Jimmy Breslin’s essays. Rachel Kushner’s novels. I like a story that has craft, but doesn’t show it. I’ll pick up a collection of Umberto Eco’s essays, especially that one he wrote on James Bond, because I like to see how good writing is put together. I don’t always understand how the masters do it, but I like to look at it.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
SW: The shadows flickering on the edge of the woods behind my house right now. I’m listening to the leaves crinkling about and thinking about walks in the woods, about when I’d go out behind my grandmother’s house where lifetimes ago my family would walk, hunting dinner or going somewhere to visit. A dozen songs from Drive-By Truckers. That line in that Dawes song that goes “this too shall pass.” Old sayings I’ve nearly forgotten. The rhythm of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” The look a man in the Food Lion grocery store made when he had to tell the cashier he didn’t have enough money and they had to decide what to put back. Those things. Those people. I’m a writer. Everything influences me.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
SW: I have an idea of where I’m going, though I don’t always end up there.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
SW: I edit the writing as I go, the story when I’m done. I’ll write the sentence seven or eight times if that what it needs, if that’s what I have to do to get to the thing I’m talking about. When I’m done, I can type it up and edit those sentences. Once I have it in the computer, I can move things around, cut or add to make the story itself work.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
SW: Get a day job.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
SW: Music. Playing or listening.
OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
SW: I don’t write for money. I mean, I don’t mind money, of course. It’s what I use to buy books. And I certainly appreciate a good review, if that means that someone enjoyed the book or that someone else might pick it up. But I’m finding that following your reviews can be a terrible idea. What are you looking for? Validation that you’re doing it right? That a reader liked the story? It’s weird. I’m thrilled that someone likes something I’ve written, but if they thought there was too much violence or not enough or that an accent didn’t ring true or that this thread didn’t tie up cleanly or whatever, what am I supposed to do with that? Have it lingering over my next story? Think about crafting this novel to make sure that this reviewer is satisfied? I’m writing so that people can read it, otherwise I wouldn’t keep clicking the “Save” button. But I can’t spend my time worrying about getting a good review. Money or reviews? My life is much better because each night I get to take my wife to bed.
OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?
SW: Why would I do that? If I never had to work again, I’d want to spend that time writing.
OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely?
SW: Rather a loaded question, isn’t it? The key for me was in finding the writing publisher for this book. You’re asking whether I want to do everything or have a terrible relationship with my publisher. I don’t want either of those things. I don’t want to spend my time “publishing” my own writing. That’s too much like work. I don’t need more work. There are people who know how to do this, who know how to market the book, how to have stacks of it at conventions and reviews in the right places. There are people who know how to get your book on the shelves of indies and Barnes & Noble. I don’t know how to do any of that. There are people who work their butts off editing your book so that it is true, so that it is a coherent story that you want to tell. There are people who will chat with you every single day about their thoughts on your book, about whether you want to talk to this radio station or that magazine. There are people who are brilliant at what they do. These people work for Tyrus Books. Other publishers have similar people. These are the people you want to work with. People who believe in your book. People who are first of all readers, who say “My God, I loved your book” before they tell you their thoughts for marketing it, before you sign anything. I’m working with Gallmeister in France, and they’re these people, too. These people are out there. These are the publishers you want to work with.
OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
SW: Jack Daniels. In a glass. No ice. No umbrella.
OBAAT: Baseball or football?
SW: Baseball, silly.
OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
SW: “Is golf a sport?”
OBAAT: What’s the answer?
SW: “Everything is a sport.”
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
SW: The story about what happened to Roy Alison’s grandfather in 1955. The book takes place in that year, as well as 1933 and the present day. It’s a bigger book than any of the four I’ve written, so it might take me another 42 years.
Country Hardball is available at all reputable booksellers. (Not that every bookstore that sells it is guaranteed to be reputable, but any store that doesn’t carry it is clearly lacking.) For more information, here’s the link to its page on Amazon for a little more detail and some reviews.