Wine Writer

Boo Walker

After picking the five-string banjo in Charleston and Nashville and then a few years toying with Wall Street, Boo chased a wine dream across the country to Red Mountain in eastern Washington with his dog, Tully Mars. They landed in a double-wide trailer on five acres of vines, where Boo grew out a handlebar mustache, bought a horse, and took a job working for the Hedges family, who taught him the art of farming and the old world philosophies of wine. Recently leaving his farm on Red Mountain, Boo and his family are back on the east coast in what’s called the Portland of Florida, St. Pete. As he wraps up the second book of the Red Mountain series, he’s got his eyes and ears open, building his next cast of characters. No doubt the Sunshine City will be host to the next few novels. The author of Lowcountry Punch, Off You Go, Turn or Burn, and Red Mountain, Boo’s novels are instilled with the culture of the places he’s lived, the characters he’s encountered, and a passion for unexpected adventure.

Jonathan Lowe) You’ve always wanted to write, but you’re involved in the winery business. Have a friend named Jeff Davis who has a wine show in Napa area. Did you start with articles or fiction?

Boo Walker) I used to play music in Nashville for a living with a band called the Biscuit Boys. My first taste of the creative process and putting words together was writing songs. When I left that career, I had to fill the void. Being a voracious reader, I always wanted to try my hand writing fiction. So I went from songs to full-length fiction.

JL) Anything happen at the winery itself that could be described as “mysterious” or “suspenseful?”

BW) There’s always things that happen at the winery with a sense of suspense or mystery. Our winemaker was nearly killed by the press one year. A year before that, someone stole our neighbor’s grapes, picking them at midnight during harvest. I’ve seen wars waged between humans that may not resolve themselves for generations. Eastern Washington is desert country, the wild west. We have coyotes that will track you, we have badgers that will maul you, and we have rattlesnakes that linger in the grass. Even though Red Mountain is a tiny blip on the map, the potential stories are endless!

JL) Drinking a bit helped me with live interviews, and many writers have been aided by wine in loosening up the free flow of ideas. Red or white for this?

BW) Ha! The best interviews always begin with a glass of white. But I have a steadfast rule… no drinking while writing. Even Hemingway stuck to that.

JL) Favorite authors? Influences?

BW) My favorite author for many years has been Pat Conroy. We share pasts in Charleston together. If I could emulate one writer, it would be him. But I read Plum Island by Nelson Demille while traveling through Ireland after high school, and it gave me the thirst. I was in Waterville on the west coast, and I remember thinking that I had to write a book. Not that I could or should, but that I had to. So I owe him a lot. My favorite book right now though, one that has utterly blown me away, is A Gentleman in Moscow. I’ve never felt so motivated as a writer. Amor Towles puts words together in ways that make my eyes water. The way his mind works is pure art and genius. And most importantly, he’s reminded me to be free in my writing. I don’t need to subscribe to any particular way of doing things. I need to write from the heart and let my voice shine.

JL) Your wine is carried at Whole Foods, bought by Amazon. Some of your characters are in wineries, too. Ever thought about sending a case to Jeff Bezos? He might buy movie rights.

BW) I love the idea of sending wine to Bezos! I sent him an email one time; he never responded. Perhaps a box of wine would do the trick!

JL) Hobbies? What’s next for you?

BW) I’m halfway way through the sequel to Red Mountain. Once that’s wrapped up, I’ll be writing a few books from my new home in St. Pete, Florida. After many years in Washington, my wife and I decided to take a new adventure. So I’m getting out and about in St. Pete, learning the history, the culture, the people. And then I’m going to throw it all in a blender and see what kind of fiction comes out. I always tell my new friends that they better be careful what they tell me, because I’m always looking for new material. Other than writing, I still play some music and absolutely thrilled to be buying my son his first guitar this Christmas. My newest hobby will be teaching him everything I know!

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Clive Cussler Interview

Clive CusslerSent Clive Cussler a fan letter back in the early 90s when I was struggling on a conventional typewriter, and he answered the letter, along with a few more I wrote with writing samples. Then he agreed to read my first novel, gave me an endorsement on it as “powerful and accomplished, mystery at its best,” invited me to meet him in Charleston on a Civil War submarine dive that made news, and later I got a phone call from him on an interview request.  This is the transcript.  Cussler and his crew of volunteers have discovered more than 60 historically significant underwater wreck sites.  Owner of a fleet of classic cars, Clive divides his time between Colorado and Arizona. Among his many books are GHOST SHIP, NIGHTHAWK, SACRED STONE, DEVIL’S GATE, ODESSA SEA…most written alone, some with his son Dirk or co-authors.

JONATHAN LOWE: You have a degree in maritime history, yet you worked in advertising, then in a dive shop on a lark, where you started writing. This was what, the mid-60s?

CLIVE CUSSLER: Yes, that would have been the mid-60s. But I got the degree, though, in 1999 or 2000. Sometime around then.

JL: How long had you been diving before NUMA?

CC: Started diving when I was in the Air Force. We were in Hickam Field in Hawaii for a while in 1951, and my friend Don Spencer and I sent for a dive tank and regulator from Cousteau in France, who’d started manufacturing them. I think we might have had the first tank in Hawaii, and I remember we went into the hanger and filled it up with a couple hundred pounds of stale air out of a compressor, and just ran into the water. So I would have started diving in 51.

JL: Finding lost shipwrecks isn’t easy, is it?

CC: Oh, no. Sometimes you get lucky, but I would say most of the time it’s difficult. The ghost ship Marie Celeste, we found that in the first hour. The Civil War submarine Hunley took me fifteen years.

JL: Is it the location that makes it difficult? Do the wrecks shift or drift?

CC: No, it’s just that the records aren’t good. I always give the example that, say, a plane crashed in your neighborhood. . . you could come back in two hundred years to find that site, but of course everything has changed, and you don’t know where to begin. Maybe they gave you a street, but maybe the streets not there. And they didn’t say it crashed two hundred yards from the old rock, you know? So you can see how difficult it is to find the exact spot. That’s the same way it is with shipwrecks. Nobody puts a big marker up and says here it is. So when you come by later, there’s no GPS coordinates.

JL: Like in the story The Gold Bug by Poe, where they drop the line through the skull to find the treasure.

CC: Yes, but even then they had a ball park.

JL: How many expeditions have you mounted by now?

CC: Oh my, there must be a hundred or more.

JL: The two Sea Hunters books outline some amazing successes, like the Hunley, Carpathia, Marie Celeste. Is there a ship still out there that beckons you, though, or still nags at you?

CC: For sure. John Paul Jones, the Bon Homme Richard. I tried for that four times, haven’t found it yet.

JL: Where did that sink?

CC: In the North Sea off Yorkshire.

JL: How goes SEA HUNTERS TV series? Will it air here?

CC: I don’t know. It’s under National Geographic, and airs internationally. What’s so funny with Geographic, I narrate the program overseas, but here they run a few of them under Mysteries of the Sea or something, and I’m cut out of it. (laughs)

JL: So you don’t know what’s going on?

CC: Well, somebody told me, and I don’t know how true it is, but they didn’t want to upset Bob Ballard, who found the Titanic.

JL: Your novels have been wildly successful, I think, due as much to the research behind them as the pacing and characters. Are you doing research for some lost shipwreck when it occurs to you that Dirk Pitt might wade in?

CC: Not really. I haven’t really combined the two. I had Pitt looking for a Pharaohs barge in the Nile one time, but we really haven’t crossed paths. I don’t know why. I think it’s just because the storyline doesn’t work as far as following anything I’ve done.

JL: Are there any more Pitt adventures in the works?

CC: Yes, I’m about two thirds through the next one.

JL: Really? I thought you were just continuing with Kurt Austin.

CC: No, those are just spinoff series. I come up with most of the plotting and they’ll start the writing, and I’ll edit, that sort of thing.

JL: So you switch off with Craig Dirgo and others.

CC: Right. Together we just finished a fiction book which has nothing to do with NUMA or Pitt or anything. In one book, Flood Tide, I had this ship that looked like an old beat up tramp steamer, had all the exotic gear, and people who ran it were like corporate mercenaries, they go around the world, like a Mission Impossible plot.

JL: Where did the name Dirk Pitt come from?

CC: My son’s name. He was six months old when I started writing. His name is Dirk, and I used it for fun, really. I was looking through an encyclopedia about the British prime ministers during the Revolutionary war, Pitt the younger and Pitt the elder. So I thought, well, that works, because I wanted a one syllable name.

JL: I was thinking, you know, like one letter less than James Bond, and easier to type than Brandon Tartikoff or something.

CC: (laughs) Well, that’s it. It’s easier to say Pitt jumped over the wall than that. I think that’s why Fleming wanted a simple name. James Bond. There was an ornithologist by that name too.

JL: What does your writing schedule look like these days? Do you work nonstop on a project?

CC: Pretty much, but I get so many interruptions. I mean, an expedition, or I have to go out to L.A. to fight over the screenplay or the movie. Or I have to speak here. There’s always something. But I try to work nine to six. Some nights now too.

JL: You know what would be great is a full cast and sound audiobook of a Pitt or Austin book.

CC: Yes, it would.

JL: Most big publishers don’t have the time to spend on productions like that, though.

CC: No, they don’t. Usually it’s just a guy sits there and reads.

JL: Do you ever get fan mail from people about your audiobooks?

CC: Yes, I do.

JL: Have you ever been on the Tonight Show? Leno’s a car buff.

CC: No, I never have, but I remember I talked to him at Pebble Beach one time and I asked him: “How come you don’t have more cars on the show?” And he said he had Carroll Shelby on one time, and the audience just had no connection with him. So producers got after him, and other than a brief bit with him in a car now and then, that’s about it.

JL: Who are your own favorite authors?

CC: When I started out the one I leaned on the most was Alister McLean. And then Hammond Innes, in his eighties now and still writing. I like Nelson DeMille. But I don’t have time to read. I had lunch one time with James Michener, and just for fun I said, “Have you read any good books lately, Jim?” And he laughed and said “I don’t read,” then clarified it by saying he doesn’t read fiction because he’s always working. I’m pretty much the same way. About the only fiction books I’ll read is like in your case, try to help a new author with a quote. I gave a quote for The Hunt for Red October for Clancy.

JL: Really? Clancy? That’s amazing.

CC: If you ever find an original, those things sell for about a thousand bucks. And then there’s Stephen Coonts, for Flight of the Intruder. Tells you how long I’ve been around, doesn’t it?

 

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James Lee Burke Interview

James Lee BurkeIf ever someone asks me “which author impressed you most?” the name James Lee Burke inevitably passes my lips.  In addition to Ray Bradbury and Clive Cussler, he has most influenced me to become a writer, too.  He is best known for his offbeat and moody mystery novels featuring a former police detective turned bait shop owner, Dave Robicheaux.  Many authors write mysteries, but this man has no peers.  I spoke with him via phone at his home in Montana a few years back.

JONATHAN LOWE: You’re in Montana now, where your novel Bitterroot was set.  I take it you’re what they call in Arizona a “snowbird?”

JAMES LEE BURKE: Well, I guess that’s fair to say. We live in Louisiana part of the year.

Lowe:  It is New Iberia or Lafayette, Louisiana where you go in the winter?

Burke:  New Iberia, now, which is a couple hours west of New Orleans.

Lowe:  What is your background. When did you start writing?

Burke:  A long time ago. I published my first story when I was 19, and my first novel back in the mid-1960s.  It was titled Half of Paradise. After college, and before Black Cherry Blues, I did a lot of other things to make money, and that included teaching, social work, driving a truck, and working in the Texas oil fields.

Lowe:  Where did your characters Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland come from?  You seem to be alternating point of view between those two in some of your books, much like you alternate between states yourself during the year.

Burke: Well, all the characters have been published in over twenty books now.  I think they all have the same origin, and are composite biographical characters, but have a reality of their own.  Like any writer, I draw from the subconscious.  The elements of myth, which comes from the unconscious, figures into it, and there are allusions from classical literature too.

Lowe:  You’re one of my personal favorite authors, and I can tell you why. It’s because you don’t use lazy clichés like “he screamed like a stuck pig,” something I read in a bestseller by another author who shall be nameless.

Burke: (laughs)

Lowe:  I also like it that you actually take the time to create images, making characters out of objects and settings. Just like John D. MacDonald did in the Travis McGee series. Who are your favorite authors, and who influenced you?

Burke: I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, and Gerald Manley Hopkins, and William Faulkner.

Lowe: You’ve been compared to William Faulkner, who used stream-of-consciousness as a literary device.

Burke:  Well, that’s an old method. The Sound and the Fury is one of the best books we have.

Lowe:  What do you think about the state of fiction today?  I’m pretty disappointed with the serial killer sub-genre.  I don’t want to know who-dun-it, but rather why they did it. Get the feeling you’re the same, true?

Burke:  I feel that the psychological story as narrative art is what interests me. Hemingway did it well, and you can spend a lifetime learning it.

Lowe:  Will Patton is the perfect narrator for your own stories on audio. He’s got the accents down, but more than that, the attitudes of the characters. Very believable.

Burke:  He’s done a very good job, and also Mark Hammer on the unabridged. They’re both excellent as narrators.

Lowe:  My favorite book of yours is Sunset Limited, I’m not sure why. The last CD of that one contains some of the best writing I’ve ever heard.

Burke:  Thank you.

Lowe:  Do you have a favorite?  I suppose you have to say it’s your latest, in answer to that question, though, right?

Burke:  Well, actually, my favorite is Purple Cane Road. Everything came together on that one.

Lowe:  Thank you for that. It’s a great novel as well.  Very personal and also a culmination of redemption for its first person point of view character.  What about Bitterroot?

Burke:  Well, it’s set in Montana, about a former Texas lawman who helps a friend in trouble and then runs into a prison parolee who’s out for revenge. That’s the overview, anyway.

Lowe:  What was your Hollywood experience like?  I loved your movie Heaven’s Prisoners, which starred Alec Baldwin.

Burke:  Yes, it was adapted, and my experience on that was really good. Everyone on the creative team very vibrant.  Of course in Hollywood it’s all a matter of money.  If you have a hundred million for the budget, you can take anything and make it look good.  It doesn’t take much to be a producer, either, besides knowing how to write a gaudy bill.  You just get you director Michael Mann and screenwriter Joe Esterhaus, and you’re off to the races! (laughs)

Lowe:  So is there another movie in the future, do you think, based on another book?

Burke:  I don’t know, I kinda stay away from that.

Lowe:  Do you work all the time, or just part of the year? A book a year, or more?

Burke:  Oh, I work all the time. I work every day, seven days a week.  It’s what I do. Been at it for a long, long time. 

Download his novels on audio HERE.