Rebecca Clarren has just published her first novel “Kickdown.” She has a strong connection to Durango and will be at Maria’s Bookshop on Thursday.
How long ago and for how long did you live in Durango?
I moved to Durango in the winter of 1997-1998 based on some mild encouragement from the editor at the Herald who told me he’d give me an informational interview. The Herald looked at my complete and total lack of journalism experience and flatly refused to give me a job, but they did let me start stringing for the weekly Cross Currents. My first article was about a local organic farmer who had figured out how to grow the perfect artichoke. To support writing these articles, I worked a ton of other jobs: I waited tables first at Francisco’s and then Carver’s; worked in the snowboard shop at Purgatory; washed hair at Lemon Head Salon; did landscaping. It was such a fun town. I just loved living here, and I made wonderful friends. Within a few years, I moved to Paonia, where I got a job at High Country News. But I’d never have gotten to HCN if not for those early articles for the Herald.
After writing nonfiction for most of your career, what was the biggest difference in writing your novel?
It was way harder, and in some ways, it was way more fun. I still interviewed tons of people for the book – it had to feel real for me before I could make it up – but I loved the flexibility to weave the stories of many different people into one character.
How did you choose to set your novel in the small town of Silt?
While the book is set in a town called Silt, it’s truly been fictionalized. The Silt in “Kickdown” is part Silt, part Paonia, where I lived for a number of years, and part the dozens of small rural towns throughout the West that I’ve visited as a reporter over the past 20 years. I experienced firsthand how it takes an hour to pick up your mail from the post office as it would be rude not to talk to each of your neighbors.
Did your time in Durango have any influence on your choice of your setting, or any of your characters?
One of my characters, Susan, was a waitress, and so was I. She’s a terrible waitress and so was I. Also, when I lived in Durango, I took a copy-editing test at The Durango Herald, and just like Susan, I failed that test. Thank goodness. I would’ve been a terrible copy editor.
How did the natural gas industry become a linchpin issue in your book?
I had a fellowship called the Alicia Patterson, which is one of the biggest pots of money you can get as a journalist, and it allows you to spend a year researching one topic. Mine was about the unmitigated impacts of oil and gas development on rural communities. After finishing that year, I felt a responsibility to write a book about the issue, but I didn’t want to write a book I wouldn’t read, and I don’t read a ton of nonfiction books. By writing a novel, I hoped to tell the stories of many communities and tell it in a way that helps readers understand past all the scientific data and economic studies, how it feels to live in a town that is undergoing dramatic change.
How did you write “Kickdown?” Some authors plot out and draw charts, characters, photos of what they look like, etc. Other authors have said they start with a premise and the story flows organically.
I’m an outliner. As an investigative reporter, I use excel spreadsheets to manage my public records data. I adore Excel spreadsheets. And I used them to write my novel. There’s a very dramatic 50 pages or so and I had a spreadsheet that tracked, in five-minute increments, what was happening to each of my characters in that time period.
What are your plans for your next book? Will it be a series or a stand alone?
I have an idea for a novel and for a nonfiction book. The new novel is set in Alaska at a scientific research station and is totally different from “Kickdown,” though it continues to look at issues of family and truth and the American West, so many it’s not that different. The nonfiction idea looks at my family’s history of ranching in South Dakota and how the free land we received from the federal government was taken from the Lakota. The book would use investigative journalism and storytelling to explore what I might owe for those federal policies that stripped tribal nations of their land.