In the past few months, I’ve given speeches at a couple of writer conferences. Speaking isn’t my favorite thing, and I obsess over it. Among other things, it takes a lot of practice to sound spontaneous.
But talking about writing forces me to think about writing. I’m not deeply philosophical. I don’t go overboard on the meaning of life or why I’ve been put on this earth. I’m just here. So it follows that I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of my writing or whether I’m leaving some kind of legacy. Readers often ask what the purpose of one of my novels is or what I set out to say. I can’t answer, because I don’t know. My goal is to write a story, and I just stumble along—I don’t outline—and hope when they’ve finished with a book, readers are glad they read it. Only on rare occasions (Tallgrass, for instance) do I have what you might call an agenda.
I don’t know what motivates me to write. (A good guess would be royalty checks.) I love the process, which surprised me when I began writing fiction. Writers are often asked, “Do you enjoy writing?” And answer is “No, but I enjoy having written.” Well, with fiction, I love sitting down at my computer and finding out what’s going to happen. Since I don’t outline, I never know what lies ahead. I have to know the ending before I start (although I often change it when I get there), but I don’t know how I’m going to reach it. The plot and subplots develop as I go along.
It wasn’t always that way. I tried writing fiction when I was young, and I found staring at a blank page—I was using a typewriter back then—daunting. I was a journalist, and I was used to a notebook full of information that had to be put into a story. But later on, I guess I was more confident, and I was comfortable not knowing what I was going to write each day, and that’s when I started writing fiction seriously.
While writing is creative, I think of it as a business. Nonwriters sometimes are impressed that you have the discipline to sit down day after day and write. They think there’s some magic involved, some silver bullet. They may have tried it themselves and given up after a day or two. Writing is like any other work; it takes discipline. But there’s nothing special about it. I think of it as my job, so it’s no big deal to sit down and do it. Frankly, I don’t find it a whole lot different from a teacher getting up each morning and going to class or a doctor readying herself for surgery. And to tell you the truth, I have a lot harder time psyching myself up to vacuum than I do to sit down at my computer.
As I’ve said in my talks, you write the first book for ego, the second for money. Writing is the way I earn my living. It is creative and I love doing it. I wouldn’t trade it for any other occupation in the world. But in the end, writing is my job. –SD
Sandra Finalist for Two Colorado Book Awards
A Quilt for Christmas and Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies are both finalists for the 2015 Colorado Book Awards. A Quilt for Christmas was nominated in the Historical Fiction category while Red Berries is a Juvenile finalist. Winners of the Colorado Book Awards, which are sponsored by the Colorado Humanities Center for the Book, will be announced June 21 in Aspen. Sandra has been a finalist four times before, although she has never won.
In addition, Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies is a runner-up for the Western Writers of America 2015 Spur Award in the Best Western Juvenile Fiction category.
Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II. By Richard Reeves. Henry Holt.
I’ve written two books, Tallgrass and Red Berries, Blue Clouds, White Skies, set in World War II Japanese internment camps, so I was excited to read Infamy. It doesn’t disappoint.
In 1942, just two months after World War II started, the federal government announced it would round up all Japanese living on the West Coat and send them to 10 inland internment camps. Charges against the Japanese were horrifying: 90% of Japanese fishermen in the U.S. in 1942 were Japanese naval officers. The entire American Japanese population on the West Coast was going to commit sabotage. Japanese officers were cavorting in Northern California wearing gaudy uniforms and plumed hats. (They turned out to be members of a Masonic lodge.)
Of course, none of that was true, but Americans were so fearful, they didn’t care about taking away the rights of these people. Many were born in the U.S. and didn’t speak Japanese. They were first housed in racetracks and similar facilities, then sent to live in barracks in desolate camps. Whole families were crammed into single rooms. Those who protested were imprisoned.
For years, the Japanese were ashamed of what had happened to them and wouldn’t talk about their treatment. But that has changed. Several camps have historic status and despite their remote locations, are visited by thousands each year.
Infamy is a thorough treatment of the camps and their occupants. Reeves writes about the soldiers who volunteered for the 442nd infantry, the famed “Go for Broke” unit, the most decorated unit in American history. But he also tells of gangs in the camps that pressured internees to refuse to join the Army and encouraged them to renounce their U.S. citizenship.
While I am partial to Robert Harvey’s Amache, with its interviews with former Japanese internees in southeastern Colorado, I think Infamy might be the most thorough book yet on the subject.
The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest. By David Roberts. Norton.
When I was 10, Dad, who worked for the General Accounting Office, spent several months on the Ute Reservation at Ignacio, Colo. He met an old timer, Frank Smith, who had discovered a trove of Anasazi artifacts on land he homesteaded. He let Dad dig there, and Dad found two Anasazi pots—one of which is in my office today—and later when we visited with Dad, Mr. Smith let us collect pottery shards.
The pottery was on private, not federal land, so that was legal. After reading The Lost World of the Old Ones, however, I’m not sure we should have taken anything. David Roberts, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., believes in living museums – leaving things where they are so that others can discover them, and then leave them behind for subsequent explorers.
The book is a personal account of Roberts’ trips over many years to the Southwest in search of the Ancestral Puebloans (today’s politically correct term for Anasazi.) Picking up a potshard, he writes, not only destroys its provenance, but “the storage drawers of famous museums…are crammed with artifacts nobody has bothered to look at in decades.”
The book is a sort of travelogue of Roberts’ experiences and a sometimes caustic look at the hidden treasures of the Southwest and those who are charged with preserving them. –SD
Contact Sandra at email@example.com