07 April 2013

Interview with Loren DeShon, Author of Redemption On The River

I recently had the chance to interview Loren DeShon, author of Redemption On The River, reviewed here.

Loren, you've had quite a varied career: a certified public accountant, a US Navy fighter pilot and now a commercial airline pilot.  When did you start writing? Was it something you always dreamed about doing?
Yes, I've done some different things.  I know there are other airline pilots who are authors, but I doubt there are many certified public accountant fighter pilot authors.

I've always enjoyed writing but until now I've never been very serious about it.  I took creative writing as occasion offered in school and I've written a few magazine articles and dabbled with short stories, but until now my most popular works have been my family Christmas letters, which people tell me they like.

I've always had a nebulous ambition to write a novel and made several abortive attempts.  I finally realized that I needed to actually get off my butt and do it—or wait until the next lifetime.  So, I guess one way to characterize the project would be to call it a bucket list item, but once I sunk my teeth into telling the story it became much more than that.

How does an airline pilot become interested in steam boats?
I have intrinsic interest in the magnificent machines that provide transportation—airplanes, trains, ships, for example—and steamboats are a relatively short-lived technology from a very colorful period in history.  Mark Twain does a marvelous job of presenting them in many of his works—he was a licensed river pilot before he became an author—and he is a big influence on me.

What inspired you to choose the Mississippi River as the location and 1848 as the setting for your first novel?
The time and place are a nexus for powerful currents in American history.  The creep of expansion West is just starting to become the flood out onto the Great Plains and the west coast.  Steamboats are entering their heyday in providing the first reliable mass transportation on the continent and in so doing uniting the markets of East, North, South, and the world.  This brings the various regions of the U.S. into much more contact with each other than before, and not everyone likes what they find.

1848 is one year from the great California Gold Rush of 1849, and two years from the Missouri Compromise of 1850, which set the simmering debate over slavery on its way to full boil.  

What kind of research did you need to undertake to write Redemption On The River?
I used original or authoritative sources whenever I could.  Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, which is autobiographical and wonderfully evocative, and George Devol's Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi (Devol is a significant character in the book) are but two examples.

I used the internet, of course, which was a huge help in identifying the best sources.  The friendly folks at steamboats.org for example, pointed me to Way's Packet Directory, which is a definitive work that lists every steamboat known to have ever operated in America.

Thanks to Way's (and other sources), most of the steamboats in which the characters in Redemption on the River travel are as historically accurate as I could make them, right down to the names of the captains and pilots.  I did indulge myself, though, for I named one after my wife.

One fun research thing I did was to use Google Earth to "travel" to various places and make sure that I had cities correctly oriented, streams flowing the right way, and get a general feel for the terrain, etc.

All in all, I did absolutely the best job I could to make the history and places in the novel as accurate as I could.  Any errors are mine.

What are some of your writing habits or routines? Do you have any quirks you can share with us?
I'm not sure that it's a quirk, but I did a lot of thinking and writing in the airplane.  I hope nobody freaks out, but we spend a lot of time at altitude on autopilot, and I would jot ideas down in my notebook or write out scenes in longhand.  Really? That's amazing and definitely unique!

As far as at-the-keyboard routines go, I typically have classical music running in the background.  I play classical because I find anything with lyrics to be distracting while writing.  I've done that classical music thing long enough now that it's become a sort of Pavlovian response.  When I hear it now I feel like I should be at the keyboard.

Do you have any literary influences?  What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I've already mentioned Mark Twain, and also Larry McMurtry, whose talent for creating unforgettable characters is amazing, and whose book, Lonesome Dove, is on my personal All-Time-Best-List.

I'll throw in Richard Bach, the author of Illusions and Jonathon Livingston Seagull, among others.  He gets big ideas across in a very plain style, which I like.
Author and pilot, Loren DeShon

As a GoodReads Author, do you have any opinions on the recent purchase of GoodReads by Amazon?
I hope GoodReads can remain member-driven and independent.  It's goal is (was?) to provide a venue for avid readers to recommend and discuss books, and that is not necessarily coincident with Amazon's goal, which is to sell gobs of stuff.

GoodReads is one of the best places there is for an debut and/or obscure author to get discovered and generate that most valuable marketing commodity - word of mouth buzz - and I hope that doesn't change.

What's next? Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I took a big break from writing when the novel came out.  I've been concentrating on marketing, mainly by soliciting book reviewers.  I had no idea how much time that would consume.

In the short term I'm now writing some short stories and polishing old ones.  I plan to release them for free and include the first chapter of Redemption on the River in the hopes of generating exposure for the novel.

My next novel?  I have an outline for historical fiction set during the Vietnam War, but readers have been asking for a sequel to Redemption on the River.  That's something I hadn't considered, but I've sketched out some ideas that I think are pretty good.  I hope to make a decision and commit soon.

What would you like to tell your readers?
Thank you very much for reading Redemption on the River, and I hope that you enjoyed Silas's journey.  It was a journey for me to write it.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you—a whole, whole lot—for reviewing my book and offering this interview opportunity.  It is the dedicated readers, bloggers, and reviewers who give authors like me the chance to reach a larger audience.
You're more than welcome Loren! And good luck for your next novel.

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