A warm welcome to author Linda Berry, who kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog.
This is your debut novel. How does it feel to have it published?
It feels great. It’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment to see the culmination of years of work and endless rewrites in a physical book. It’s not my first novel, but the first to be published, and certainly the most challenging to write. Hidden is a complex story with many characters and interwoven narratives. When it became clear all these stories could not be told in one novel, my publisher, Winter Goose Publishing, recommended we divide it into two parts.
What sparked your interest in writing?
I’ve always been an avid reader. I was raised in a military family and we moved around the globe a lot, and while living in Europe, we had no TV, so books became a ready source of entertainment. Reading sparked my interest in storytelling, and at a young age I started writing fairy tales accompanied by drawings of princesses with long flowing gowns. That interest developed over time. I ended up majoring in art, and enjoyed a twenty-five year career as a copywriter and graphic designer.
Some of our readers might not know much about Hidden, Part One. Can you tell us a bit about it?
The story takes place in 2006 and follows a young Marine veteran, physically and emotionally wounded, returning home to his Oregon horse ranch from combat in Afghanistan. While recovering, he attempts to make peace with his abusive father, and pull the family horse ranch out of near economic collapse. Layered into Sully’s story are horse theft, murder, and the seeming futility of pursuing the love of an older woman.
The story is interwoven with that of another young man, Justin, his hardscrabble life, and his attempt to rise above poverty by climbing the ranks of bull riding. There are several strong women in the book, who are instrumental in promoting character arcs in the men, and inevitably, in themselves.
What inspired you to take on this subject matter?
After 9/11, like many Americans, I witnessed our rush to invade Iraq and Afghanistan without a cohesive plan, long-term goal, or proper protection for our troops. My heart went out to the brave men and women in uniform who were being subjected to a new kind of warfare—suicide bombers and IEDs—that could take off limbs in the blink of an eye. When they came home, there were no resources for them. Twenty veterans commit suicide everyday. It’s egregious. By making my main character a vet, I could comment on the struggle vets face here on the home front.
There’s also the theme of rodeo in your story. How did that fit in?
I wanted to pay tribute to what I see as a disappearing culture—that of the cowboy, and small ranches that are being swallowed up by the increasing need to expand suburbs into rural areas. Our American heritage grew out of these tough-minded families who settled the west. I wanted to put in a time capsule the culture of folks who are their own bosses, live off the land, are raised on horseback, and are routinely taught to compete in rodeo as a coming of age. The courage and skill it takes to ride a bucking bronc or bull is extraordinary, and these athletes have fewer safeguards and economic rewards than in other professional sports.
It’s fair to say that most of your characters are deeply wounded, and searching for purpose in life.
Yes, that’s true. They all have grave emotional issues to overcome. They are the walking wounded, their pain invisible, hidden beneath their carefully arranged expressions: thus the title, Hidden.
Why did you choose Oregon as your setting?
I’m an Oregon transplant of fifteen years. I wanted to write what I know, what I’ve fallen in love with, and that’s the diverse, rugged beauty of this state, and the interesting mix of people that populate it.
Talk to us about your writing routine; what does a typical day look like?
Now that I’m retired, I have the luxury of writing every day. I wake up eager to get to work. I take my coffee up to my sunny office that overlooks a peaceful wooded area, and dig in. I immediately go into the “fiction” zone, a realm of true contentment and total absorption. I have, of course, days where the flow hits a wall, and I know I won’t wring anything good out of my “shut down” brain. I never force the creative process. Generally it means I’m analyzing the logistics of something to come, or something I wrote that I’m not satisfied with. What generally helps me break through the logjam is reading. I’ll bury my nose in a good book, and before long, ideas start percolating to the surface.
What inspires you to write?
Everything. It’s almost more like a compulsion at this point. I live and breathe writing. No matter where I am, or what I’m doing, part of my brain is analyzing data to see if any of it is useful to my writing projects. I constantly take notes, and routinely draw from them in my writing. My true challenge is pulling myself away from the computer and balancing my life with other activities, and family time.
What is your writing process?
I start a book by researching and outlining the main narratives, the characters, the geography, until it comes to life in my imagination. I don’t write out the whole book in a rough draft. I draft one scene at a time, rewarding myself as I go along. The layering in of beautiful details is the fun part. By the time I get a few chapters completed, I come to understand the characters well, at which point they often take over the reins and guide the story for me, and write their own dialogue.
What comes next?
Hidden Part Two, and a police thriller called Pretty Corpse will be released later this year. I’m currently working on another mystery/suspense novel called Quiet Scream, which will be released in 2018.
Final question: do you have any advice for aspiring writers reading this?
Learn how to steel yourself for criticism and rejection. Try not to turn it into something personal. What will please an agent or editor is subjective. Write about something you love, and then your passion will come out in your words. Write often, everyday, if possible. Read, read, read. Mostly your own genre. I read one or two books a week, and I also watch movies and TV productions that tell good stories. I take notes. I have volumes of notes, and refer to them daily.
Excerpt from Hidden, Part One
Snow started feathering the windshield as Sully pulled off the highway. With all the hay delivered, the flatbed truck was easier to navigate. He drove a half-mile up Monty’s private driveway and parked in front of the sprawling lodge-style house. Sully sat for a long moment before turning to Travis, whose tense expression matched his own. Something was wrong. Normally three or four barking dogs would have loped across the yard to greet them, and a few horses would be standing at attention in the corral. It was mid-afternoon, yet the porch and yard lights were on, and he noticed numerous sets of boot tracks in the snow traveling between the front door and the barn. That much activity was out of character with Monty’s quiet lifestyle. Sully lifted his pants leg and pulled his Ruger from its ankle holster.
Travis lifted his brows. “You’re walking around armed?”
Sully silenced him with a look. He’d been a civilian for two days. He still thought like a Marine.
With Sully in the lead, they inched along the wall of the house and up the porch to the front door. Sully dipped his head in front of the window and pulled back. A body was sprawled on the floor. He tried the door handle. Unlocked. He threw the door open and pressed himself back against the outside wall. No noise, just a smell he’d grown too familiar with in Afghanistan. Travis caught it at the same time and raised his bandana over his nose. Holding his gun straight in front of him with both hands, Sully entered the warm living room. Travis followed. They surveyed the overturned furniture, opened drawers, and books scattered across the carpet. In the middle of the floor, Monty Blanchert laid face up in a wide pool of dried blood.
Sully made a slow orbit around the room, scanning it in slices, missing nothing, and then he squatted next to the body. From the state of the corpse and the temperature in the room, he guessed the death had taken place within the last three days. The dead man’s eyes were covered by a milky film and stared sightlessly at the ceiling. Bruise marks covered his face, and his bottom lip was swollen and split. Two bullets had pierced his chest. “Jesus. Poor Monty.”
Hidden, Part One in now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Thank you for your interesting interview, Linda.