want to talk first about your GroVont trilogy. Rumor
has it there might be a fourth one coming out.
Well, I'm working on it. They go every
ten years. Skipped Parts was 1963, and then
there's '73 and '83. So I'm working on a 1993 installment.
This will be the fourth part of a
trilogy, so we've got a tetralogy? A quartet?
I'm calling it a four-book trilogy. Larry
McMurtry wrote a four-book trilogy, so I can too.
The first one was probably the most
controversial of the trilogy so far. Skipped
Parts deals with a couple of teenagers who decide
that since they're only going to be friends, they
might as well experiment sexually with each other—that
way, when they get to somebody who really counts,
they'll know what to do and not make any mistakes.
That's a rather bold step to take,
isn't it? It's not the sort of thing most publishers
will look at and say, "Oh, wonderful! Let's
go with that! That's a feel-good book!"
Well, they sure seemed to like it. I
enjoyed writing it. When I started it, it was about
a bartender in Las Vegas and a guy in Pinedale,
Wyoming, who fixes satellite television. That's
the idea I sold to my publisher. And then it sort
of evolved over about a year or so, and suddenly
there's no Vegas and no bartender and no Pinedale.
None of the stuff that I sold is actually in the
But the satellite repair element does
come up in a different book.
Three books later. Actually, the end
of the third book ends right at the first scene
that I sold to Henry, Holt.
Yeah. The scene where they're sitting
around after the funeral and talking about things—that's
what I sold the book based on. And then I started
doing backstory, and it just kept getting longer
and longer. Finally, I wrote "The End"
at the end of it.
There's certainly a lot of action
in your novels, but you seem to have much more fun
with the characters themselves. Is that a fair assessment?
Sure. All good books that I know of are
character-driven. You've got to start with the people
and throw things at them and see how they handle
What about those who say it's
got to be plot-driven? You've got to be able to
sum up the plot in twenty-five words or less for
the public before they'll buy it.
That's more for movies, I think. I've
never really known that for books. Category genre
books are traditionally considered plot-driven—science
fiction and romances. But the really good ones—like
Kurt Vonnegut or something like that—they're
really character-driven too.
You talk movingly about genre
fiction in your novels—Max Brand, a favorite
Western author, pops up in a couple books, I believe.
He wasn't character-driven.
No. You can't really say that.
But is this affection real?
Oh yeah. When I started out, I wanted
to write Westerns. But the genre kind of died out
from under me. And then I started writing more personal
books about where I live and what I see, and it
just kind of went from there. But I originally wanted
to write Westerns.
It's hard. Even those guys who
were lucky enough to have the name Lamour or Grey—it
doesn't seem like their estates are selling many
books right now.
No, that genre's down. But the thrillers
and mysteries are up. It comes in waves.
It's all cycles. We had the science
fiction cycle a while ago. And, of course, we're
enduring the romance cycle now. But maybe Westerns
will be back about the time you come out with the
The West seems very popular in books
nowadays. They're just not the traditional Western
set in 1880. I'm more interested in places like
Sun Valley and Taos and Mojave, where the big influx
of the new people and new money runs into the old
West. That's the part of the West that I find exciting.
One of the trilogy novels has
been turned into a movie, and there's another on
the way, right?
Right. Sorrow Floats is a Showtime
Original with the title Floating Away. It
came out last summer. And it looks like we're going
to shoot Skipped Parts in August up in Saskatchewan.
It's going to be interesting
to see how that gets translated. Did you work on
Yeah, I wrote the script. It's quite
close to the book. Floating Away wasn't really
close to the book. We had to get rid of a lot of
stuff. It was too complex for a movie. But Skipped
Parts is basically the book.
You have assembled a great collection
of characters for this series—Sam and Maurey,
the protagonists in these books, also Sam's mother—
Who is probably one of the world's
first feminists. And the Indian caretaker—
Who is a marvelous character. I love
his little asides. Do you sometimes find yourself
driving to the donut shop and suddenly these characters
start talking to you?
Sure. They're real to me, especially
when I'm writing the book. They're much more real
than real life. I relate to Sam and Maurey much
more than I do to people around me.
They've obviously been with you for
a very long time, and if you're already planning
the fourth book, you've gone through their entire
lives. You know everything that there is to know
Yes. If I go in a restaurant, I'll look
at the menu and figure out what all the characters
would order before I figure what I will order.
I know what they'll want. It's me I've got troubling
That's got to be frustrating to some
of your friends and family.
I can do it real quick. They don't know
that I'm doing that, I don't think. And we exchange
presents at Christmas sometimes. I'm married now,
but back when I was single, it was a lot spookier
because it was just me and six or seven fictional
characters in this apartment.
I'm beginning to see where some of
the characters in Sex and Sunsets came from.
Yeah. I just started talking, and there
it was. There's been so many drafts and people have
evolved so much that they're not who they started
The West must be a remarkable place
for a person to write.
It can be too beautiful. Sometimes, you
can be somewhere really beautiful, and words don't
seem to matter that much at all. I write most of
the time in the winter, when it's dark at 4:30.
That's got to be a pretty harsh existence.
It makes me think of Skipped Parts, when
Sam and Lydia have just come up to Wyoming for the
first time from North Carolina. The harshness of
the winter doesn't bother the natives, but for a
Southern boy like Sam, it seems to be quite a culture
You get used to spring coming at a certain
time, and in North Carolina, spring's quite beautiful,
as I recall. Here, it can be snowing, and suddenly
it gets incredibly beautiful overnight. But really,
you spend a month where you don't see the ground.
And you have to get used to that.
Let's talk a little bit about channeling
your characters into a series. I have interviewed
some authors who have sat down to do two or three
books in a series. And they have a thick concordance,
and they have people help them map everything. Is
this how you work or do you just sit in front of
the word processor and fly by the seat of your pants?
I fly. I just create the characters and
then see what happens. Tell me about the concordance—do
they keep up with what these people do?
They keep a log of it. It will actually
be descriptions that they have written of the person's
house and the town and the car and if they have
pets, what they are, how they've related to the
pets in certain situations.
That's the memory of your own life. I
know all that. I know everything about these characters
for the thirty years that I've been writing about
them. I don't have to write it down or have a list
anywhere. I had one character that was in about
two paragraphs in Skipped Parts, and
I had to go back and see what color his eyes were.
What triggered Skipped Parts?
These fourteen year olds losing themselves in this
sexual practice—it just seems to be kind of
an odd choice.
Well, I had two adult friends—a
man and a woman. And they were really close friends—the
very best of friends—and there was no sexual
tension between them. And I was wondering why it
was that way, and I started looking at their past,
and I realized they'd been together as teenagers.
I talked to a doctor here in town, and I found out
that there's a rumor among kids nowadays that if
the girl's never had her period, she can't get pregnant.
So you can have sex before the girl's had her first
period—which didn't come up in 1963, when
I was a kid. And I started wondering what would
happen if that kind of thing happened back in 1963,
when we didn't know anything at all. Kids now watch
a lot of movies and they know a lot more a lot younger
than we did back then. Like my character Sam—somebody
will say something and he'll say, "What's a
period? I don't understand." He doesn't understand
Sam is completely innocent during
The book is about innocence. And the
only one who comes of age in the book is his mother
Lydia. Sam is just as innocent at the end as he
is at the beginning. They were kids except for the
fact that they had a child. They don't change.
Maurey does change considerably in
the second book.
Yeah. She has an alcohol problem by the
second book. I'm not sure where all that came from.
The second book is kind of independent. Sam's not
even in that book. It's the story of Maurey. She
almost loses her baby and goes on a road trip to
North Carolina, trying to find herself again with
two ex-alcoholics in an ambulance.
Hauling five thousand dollars' worth
of Coors beer.
Back in those days, Coors was illegal
in the East, so people would haul it out of here
and sell it for a lot of money. You can always sell
things that are illegal for a lot of money, even
if later on nobody wants them.
I like the way that the trilogy works.
It's Sam and Maurey, and then it's Maurey, and then
it's back to Sam in Social Blunders. Is the
fourth book going to follow suit and be another
I think the fourth book's going to be
completely different. In 1993, Lydia gets out of
jail. As you may remember, at the end of Social
Blunders, she goes underground, so five years
later, she gets caught and goes to jail. There's
a minor character named Oley in all three books.
Part of her sentence is doing an oral history of
him. So it's going to be more historical. It's going
to be what Oley remembers from 1923, when he was
a motorcycle ranger in Yellowstone Park, and then
there's going to be a modern part with Lydia. As
far as I know right now, the kids are not going
to be too important. They've been through so much
hell and they're fairly happy—I just don't
have the heart to give it to them again.
You could always pick up with their
Yeah, she might be a major character
in it. It's like that first book—when I started,
they were in Las Vegas, and I got completely sidetracked.
So I don't know what it's going to be. That's just
the plan right now.
One last question. You have probably
got the spottiest resume of anybody that I've ever
interviewed. You were a dishwasher and a cook at
the Lame Duck Chinese Restaurant, you've been an
elk skinner and a novelist.
Why did you do all these off-beat
I wanted to be a writer, and I never
wanted a career. I've known too many people who
got careers and said, "I'll get back to writing
later." So I always took the cruddiest jobs
I could find, so I wouldn't like it so much that
I got stuck in it.
So which is cruddier—elk skinner
or dishwasher at the Lame Duck Chinese Restaurant?
Dishwasher's probably not that much fun.
But back in the '60s, there were very few jobs out
here in the fall and winter. Elk-skinning was the
only job I could find—and I knew it would
look good on the back of a book some day. I didn't
have a book for another fifteen years, but I was
working on the publicity already.