Lin Enger was the December, Minnesota Author in the Spotlight on Booksnob. I asked him some questions about his books, his reading life, his writing life and more. I've had a really busy month and I'm a little behind in posting this so I hope you'll forgive me and read this interesting interview. Did I mention that Lin's book, The High Divide is awesome? Well, it is.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in central Minnesota, a small resort/farming town in Douglas County called Osakis, and have spent nearly all of my life in the state. For more than thirty years I’ve been teaching English, first at the high school level, and since the early 1990s at Minnesota State University Moorhead. I earned my MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the late 80s and since then have been writing seriously—or as seriously as possible while teaching full-time.
2. Why did you decide to become a writer? What is one of your daily writing habits or rituals?
Writing is what I’m able to do well. Nothing else gives me the same satisfaction or pleasure; that’s why I do it. If I’d been able to play baseball at the professional level, I would have done that. I would have made a lot more money, but then again, I would’ve been washed up by now. If I’d been good in biology, I might have gone to med school. We do what our gifts allow us to do.
For most of the year I don’t have much of a writing schedule. While teaching, I try to work whenever I can find an hour or so, before, after, and between my classes. During summers I write all day. When I’m composing a rough draft, my habit is to write quickly and with intensity for no more than a few hours. When revising, I can work all day and into the night. Time disappears.
3. What is the inspiration behind your book, The High Divide?
In 1886 William Hornaday, curator and taxidermist of the National Museum in Washington D.C., led an expedition into the Montana badlands to shoot some of the last of the continent’s wild Bison; he did this because he needed (stuffed) specimens for his museum and knew the animal was all but extinct. I need to add that Hornaday was also one of the leading conservationists of his day, and later, he led the fight to win legal protection for the species. When I came across this story in the 90s, I knew I’d write about it some day. And though Hornaday himself is not central to the plot of the finished novel, I have to give him credit for launching me into the story.
4. Usually an author some of his or her own experiences in the book? Did you do that? Do you have anything in common with your characters?
As for my characters, I have something in common with all of them. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to imagine their inner lives.
5. Do you like to read? What books or authors influence you?
I love to read, as every writer I know does. I can’t imagine life without books. Influential writers in my life have included: Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment is the best book I’ve read); O.E. Rolvaag (Giants in the Earth); Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses); James Welch (Fools Crow); Jon Hassler (Staggerford, Rookery Blues); Chaim Potok (My Name is Asher Lev). More recent novelists I admire include Jennifer Egan (A Visit from the Good Squad); Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn); my brother Leif Enger (Peace Like a River, So Brave, Young, and Handsome); Ann Weisgarber (The Promise); Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven); etc., etc. It’s been said before, and I concur: we’re living in a golden age of literature.
6. Name one book that you believe is a must read for everyone and tell us why?
I recommend all of the above and could recommend many others. But I hesitate to say that any single book, aside from the Bible, is a “must read.” To do that, I’d need to possess a universal sensibility, which I don’t have.
7. Your book, The High Divide takes place in the West and embodies the hero’s journey. What places would you recommend we visit if we go on a vacation out West?
Yellowstone Park, of course. The Little Bighorn battlefield in southern Montana. The redwood country of northern California. Mount Rainier.
8. As a college English teacher, what advice would you give to new writers?
Read indiscriminately, according to your interests. Make a habit of listening and watching. Instead of surfing the web, spend your time—hours and hours of it—putting your thoughts on paper, even if you have nothing to say; because, as with anything else, there is no substitute for practice, and because there are no shortcuts. In the end, you must either (1) learn to love doing it, (2) live for the satisfaction of having done it, or (3) both.
9. Are you working on a new book? Can you tell us about it?
I’m superstitious and don’t dare talk about it much. Hemingway said if you talk about the book you’re writing, you won’t need to write it. I will say that my new novel is set in the 1970s, in New York City, southern California, and northern Minnesota, all places that I love. I’m working on the second draft.
10. In one sentence tell readers why they should read, The High Divide?
If you agree that the stories in Western fiction and film tend to be driven by the revenge motive (and I would argue that you should), The High Divide is one of very few anti-Westerns.
You can find Lin Enger at his website: http://www.lin-enger.com/