Interview: Richard Satterlie Author of Phoenix

Author: Richard Satterlie, Ph.D

ISBN: 1593745702

The following interview with Richard Satterlie was conducted by: NORM GOLDMAN: Editor of Bookpleasures.com.

Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest,Richard Satterlie, Ph.D,author of Phoenix. Richard was Professor of Biology at Arizona State University and he is now the Frank Hawkins Kenan Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Good day Richard and thanks for agreeing to participate in our interview.

Norm:

Where did you grow up and have reading and writing always been a part of your life?

Richard:

Thank you, Norm.

I was born and raised in Vallejo, California–about 35 miles north of San Francisco, on San Pablo Bay. Way back then, I wanted to play basketball in the NBA, so reading wasn’t high on my list. Same with writing. As my career plans changed (out of necessity), writing became more and more important. Due to the need for so much science-specific reading and writing, I didn’t have much time to read fiction, and no time to write it. Eventually I found time, then I made time, but still I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like. I do most of my writing at night, after the kids go to bed.

Norm:

Why do you write and what inspired you to write Phoenix?

Richard:

I guess the short answer to the first part of the question is I like intellectual challenges, and after so much technical writing, fiction was a significant challenge. Also, I like the idea of being able to create situations, and build these situations into stories, all from my imagination. The wellspring for Phoenix came from a book on the history of the Black Canyon area of Arizona, and the gold and silver mines that operated there for a time. What allowed the wellspring to grow into a creek was a simple observation from that book. Stage and wagon hold-up artists were being pinched by the development of railroads. But in the heyday of gold and silver mining in Black Canyon, stagecoaches and wagons were still used to carry payrolls and ore. Any reasonable robber would migrate toward the easy marks, so this part of Arizona collected more than its fair share of bad guys. What’s interesting is this creek plays a very minor role in the story, which speaks to how fiction finds it own streambed.

Norm:

How long did it take you to write Phoenix and what did you learn from writing this book, as I believe this is your first work of fiction?

Richard:

It took about six months to write it. I did write one story before Phoenix, around 90,000 words, but about 89,999 of those words were horrible. I didn’t know how to write fiction, so I just told a story. Fortunately, I received an extremely harsh evaluation of this work, which upped the challenge for me. With good advice and several books on how to write fiction, Phoenix was my response. Most of what I know about writing fiction came from working through Phoenix. I learned the basics of the craft. I learned that the plot evolves as the characters develop, and that this evolution shouldn’t be resisted. I learned that I am still playing hide-and-seek with the subtleties of the craft. And, I learned that this last part probably will never change for any serious writer.

Norm:

How did you approach recreating the character of John William (Jack) Swilling who in fact was a real person. Did you plan him out or did he evolve as you wrote the book? Did you leave things out that you had discovered about him?

Richard:

I was fortunate to have three references that gave a basic account of Jack Swilling’s life, but they also presented slightly different versions of some of the more notorious aspects of his personality. This allowed me to use the former as guideposts for the story at the same time I could let my own extrapolations set the paths between the guideposts. Since Swilling wasn’t my protagonist, but rather this new mentor, I felt I had more leeway in how I portrayed him. In real life, he was a rich personality. It was fun to play with that.

Norm:

Do you agree, as Philip Gerard states in Writing a Book that makes a Difference, that if you want to write a good story or novel you need to create struggles of powerful descriptive individuals and not just issues. Through their accomplishments and travail, we very much comprehend the issues? If you do agree, how is this applicable in Phoenix?

Richard:

Absolutely. The best plot in the world isn’t worth much unless there are interesting, imperfect characters to act it out, in my opinion. A book of fiction makes a horrible soapbox. But every good book of fiction should whip up a few suds. It’s the characters who do the whipping. Putting the issues above the characters exposes too much of the author, who should be invisible. In Phoenix, I feel like the issues (to me the themes) are secondary to the story, and if I did it right, they should sneak up on the reader. I’m hoping the readers will climb in the protagonist’s skin and experience the themes rather than being assaulted by them.

Norm:

What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?

Richard:

The primary obstacle was time. I have a wonderful, rewarding occupation, and I give it the full attention it deserves. The way I’ve overcome this challenge–I don’t sleep much. The second obstacle is one all new authors face. Writing is great fun for me, but I also want it to be just as much fun for the readers. There is constant uncertainty about that one. The third challenge is convincing friends and family that writing is not just “another of those fly-by-night hobbies.” Finally, in historical fiction, it’s very easy to slip contemporary phrases into the dialogue, and to use period-inappropriate terms. Fortunately, my wife is good at catching these things.

Norm:

Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?

Richard:

Research for Phoenix was fairly easy. The story starts in Minnesota. My mother and father both grew up in Minnesota, and some of my relatives are still faming there. I learned about Norwegian ways (good and bad) from my father. His father was a first generation Norwegian-American like the protagonist in Phoenix. The majority of the story takes place in the Arizona Territory. I lived in the Phoenix Valley for twenty-four years, and I became familiar with the area and its history. The references on Jack Swilling and his time period were extremely helpful.

Norm:

How did you create Sievert Olafson in your book?

Richard:

This is answered in the first part of my previous answer. One of my heroes was my father’s brother, my Uncle Sid. Although he lived his life as a very successful farmer in Minnesota, unlike Sievert, his outlook on life and his personal values made an impression on me. My father held those same values, but you may know as well as I do that it’s difficult to look at our own father and really see him as a regular person.

Norm:

What do you hope to achieve with your first novel and what do you hope readers will take away after reading the book? Is there an underlying message in Phoenix?

Richard:

I would like Phoenix to entertain its readers. There are a couple of underlying messages that, I hope, come across. Things like the importance of family, and my favorite, developed in the book, about how our trajectory from birth to death is not a straight one, but meanders–sometimes to the good and sometimes to the bad. But in the end, it is the smoothed slope of the trajectory that is important. Does it lean to the good or to the bad? I suspect different readers will take away different things from the book. Reading fiction is a very personal thing. If it is written correctly, the reader will get so involved, his/her own experience will flavor what they take away from it.

Norm:

Up to now you have written non-fiction, how easy or difficult was it for you to write a work of fiction?

Richard:

It was fairly easy for me. Looking back, I have always dreamed in complete scenes. I can remember playing with my small cars and building sets, and I always had a story going, complete with interacting characters and dialogue. It’s all in the imagination. I’ve always been able to do the imagination thing. Too much, sometimes.

Norm:

How much of Richard Satterlie is in the character of Sievert Olafson?

Richard:

There is very little of me in Sievert, although my family may disagree. The one commonality I can point to with certainty was a springboard for this story, though. When I decided to go to graduate school, several family members tried to talk me out of it. “What will you do with an advanced degree in Biology?” was the question I remember to this day.

Norm:

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us and what is next for Richard Satterlie?

Richard:

I do have three other completed novels (mystery, psychological suspense and supernatural suspense), and a fourth in progress (back to mystery). I’m also contemplating a sequel to Phoenix. Perhaps readers will help me decide if Sievert Olafson should come back to us.

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Thank you for the great questions!



Source by Norm Goldman

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