My guest today writes thought-provoking and engaging historical fiction. But let’s let him tell you all about his writing. Please help me welcome Steve Wiegenstein to the interview chair. We’ll peek at his bio and then get to the interview.
Steve Wiegenstein grew up in the Missouri Ozarks, the setting for much of his writing, and worked there as a newspaper reporter before entering the field of higher education. He is an avid hiker and canoeist who hits the trails and float streams of the Ozarks every chance he gets. Steve lives in Columbia, Missouri, where he teaches English. He is the author of three historical novels: Slant of Light, This Old World, and The Language of Trees, and of a forthcoming book of short stories. He is at work on the fourth novel of his series.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Steve: I started writing short stories in high school, admittedly very clumsy ones, and then worked in journalism during and after college. I was writing for newspapers by the time I reached my sophomore year in college, so I guess I could say that I’ve always been a writer!
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Steve: I spent a couple of years working on short stories and trying to find my authentic voice and subject. Working on my writing skills is an unending process, though, and in a very real sense I am still working on those skills thirty years later!
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Steve: Stylistically, I’ve always been a fan of Scott Fitzgerald and John Williams, two writers who used a plain, “classical” style but were able to pull out distinctive rhetorical flourishes when the situation called for it. Another pair of influences in a less noticeable way are Emerson and Thoreau. One thing I’ve noticed about their writing is that they both have a practice of making sharp turns in their subject. These seemingly unpredictable and random changes of subject turn out to make sense upon reflection, but surprise and shock us at first.
Betty: What prompted you to start writing?
Steve: It’s hard to say. I’ve just always felt that I’ve had stories to tell, ideas to communicate, and writing was the natural vehicle for me to do that. If I was better at music or art, I might have gone down those paths, but you work with what you’ve got!
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Steve: Schlocky, woodsy stories that were essentially bad imitations of Jack London. Blessedly vanished from the earth.
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
Steve: There are different sorts of enjoyment, I think. Writing short stories is fun, because you can really focus, finish a story within a few weeks, and feel a sense of immediate satisfaction. By contrast, writing a novel can feel like endless work (I mean seriously, they take years). But the satisfaction when one is completed is immense.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Steve: I was an insanely voracious reader as a kid. I think I picked up a lot of techniques and strategies just by osmosis. But going to journalism school and then working in newspapers for several years really taught me the discipline I needed and gave me some important habits, especially for the editing stages.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Steve: Not exactly “knew,” but I wish I had kept at it more steadily! There were periods in my career when I focused more on “day-job” work, academic presentations and the like, but looking back on it now I wish I had stayed more focused on my creative writing instead. That’s the work that I hope will last.
Betty: What other authors inspired you (either directly or through their writing) to try your hand at writing?
Steve: My mom was a freelance writer who wrote feature stories for newspapers and magazines, and one of my fondest memories as a child is watching her set up her typewriter and notes on the dining room table, focus her attention intently on her subject, and laugh with delight when she came up with a particularly good phrase. I trace my love of writing right back to her.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Steve: My novel series deals with critical moments in American history as seen through the lens of a small village in the Missouri Ozarks. In the earlier books I dealt with the run-up to the Civil War and the aftermath of that war, but in this one I was interested in the Industrial Revolution. In the Ozarks that revolution came by way of what was known as the “timber boom,” a period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when big financial interests came to the region and applied industrial methods to timber harvesting. The result was a huge economic change and an environmental catastrophe that is still being felt today. I’ve always felt that this was an under-told story, and it’s an era that appeals to my personal interests in economics, society, and the environment, as well as providing the backdrop for a great story.
The inhabitants of Daybreak, a quiet 19th-century utopian community, are courted by a powerful lumber and mining trust and must search their souls as the lure of sudden wealth tests ideals that to some now seem antique. And the courtship isn’t just financial. Love, lust, deception, ambition, violence, repentance, and reconciliation abound as the citizens of Daybreak try to live out oft-scorned values in a world that is changing around them with terrifying speed.
Josephine pulled the shutters, darkening the house, but wasn’t ready to sleep yet. She felt restless, filled with aimless energy that she didn’t know how to burn. She took her shawl from its peg and stepped into the night.
The tang of woodsmoke from cookstoves and fireplaces seasoned the evening air, and the first stars salted the sky. In the still air she could hear the distant clack-clack of the northbound line, up from Texas with a load of cattle, no doubt. It was a good six miles to the railroad as the crow flew, but she could hear the banging of the cars, and a moment later the screech of a whistle as it passed a crossing. Cattle going north, emigrants and orphans going south. Bodies in motion.
She walked away from the sound, up the road toward the river, her mind cluttered. Charlotte liked to sit by the river, always had, and Josephine could understand why. It had a balancing effect, the movement and silence, the faint murmur concealing deep power. Sitting by the river reminded her of lasting things and suspended the oppressive sense that she would rather be anywhere than in this valley, caring for a damaged mother, waiting for her to die so that the next chapter in her own life could begin. Even the cattle had a destination.
Buy link: Amphorae Publishing
We share both a love of story and a life-time of writing, Steve. Thanks so much for joining me today and sharing about your writing process and the story behind the story!
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