Hello, Everyone! Today I would like to introduce the writer of the Utopian novel ‘Slant of Light‘. Please welcome Steve Wiegenstein!
Hi, Steve! To start with, would you mind telling us a little about yourself?
I’m a native of Missouri, having grown up on a farm in the eastern Ozarks. It’s a rugged and rather poor part of the country, but it’s home. After high school, I went off to university, became a newspaper writer for a while, then returned for graduate degrees and became a college teacher. I’m currently in administration at Columbia College in Missouri, about a four-hour drive from where I grew up. So I guess I’d say I’ve come full circle.
How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start?
I started writing as a little kid, inspired by my mother, who wrote freelance feature stories for the local newspapers. I’ll admit, I became enamored with the mythology of the “great novelist,” the superhuman Hemingway- or Faulkner-like figure who created entire worlds in his head. I wrote like crazy when I was in my twenties and thirties, but then got caught up in earning a living, and didn’t get back to real writing–by which I mean serious, daily, disciplined writing–until about eight years ago.
Great writing history, having a mother who wrote for the paper!
In which genre do you prefer to write?
Until recently, I had always written short stories, but when I got back into the writing saddle this latest time, what compelled me was the idea of an interlocked series of novels, set in the same location, but unfolding over the generations with an evolving cast of characters. That’s the big project I’m working on now, and it will take years. The first set could be called “historical novels,” I suppose, but as I get closer to the present day, I won’t be able to call them that.
That sounds like quite the undertaking. Good luck with it!
Please tell us a little about your writing process. Do you write daily, at a specific time, in a particular place?
If I could, I’d write all day, every day, but as it happens I have a day job that requires a lot of my time. So I get up early in the mornings and write for an hour or two before anybody else is up. It’s a good time to write, when the house is quiet and there are few distractions.
What is your strategy with regards to editing? Do you have a writers group, critique partner or beta reader that helps you assess you manuscript?
One thing newspaper work taught me is to be ruthless with my own prose. When I’m writing, I’m full of emotion and love every little word that drops onto the page. But when I’m editing, I put on my green eyeshade and get very cold-hearted. So I mostly edit my own work. I’ve been fortunate to work with careful editors at Blank Slate Press, in addition.
I know you’ve been recently published. Please tell us what that process was like.
Writers are masochists, let’s face it! You spend months and years crafting a book . . . then more months and years trying to convince an agent to represent it! And most writers I know are pretty introverted to begin with, so the task of selling their manuscript doesn’t come easy to them. But if you truly believe in what you’ve written, you have to get over that reticence and develop the thick skin necessary to persist. When I finally found a publisher, Blank Slate Press of St. Louis, Missouri, it was such a thrill! Here were these people, complete strangers to me, who were responding to my work with such a level of enthusiasm and understanding. It was like pushing your way through brambles for a couple of years and finally emerging into a beautiful landscape. Of course, you quickly discover that your work is only beginning, because the folks at Blank Slate had their own ideas about how the book should develop. We had many, many intense discussions, and the book is the better for it.
What a great analogy, “pushing through brambles”! I’m glad you made it through to the “beautiful landscape”.
Would you like to tell us a little about ‘Slant of Light’? Brag as much as you like!
Oh, I’ll brag all right! The novel takes place in the years 1857-1862, which in American history are really fascinating — the trouble times leading up to the Civil War, when everybody in the country knew that something terrible was about to happen, but had no idea of its magnitude, and the leaders were incapable of achieving a peaceful solution to the intractable differences that divided the country. So it’s a time with built-in drama right there. Add to that the fact that this was also one of the great periods of American literary creativity, with people like Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, and others at work, and you get an idea of the amazing ferment that the country was in. So I decided to explore the great themes of that era — nature and civilization, human perfectibility, the American ideal of self-reliance — through a utopian community located in the Missouri Ozarks.
Why did you choose to write about Utopian lifestyles?
They’ve been a scholarly interest of mine for many years. I’ve been particularly interested in a group called the Icarians, who existed in the United States from 1848 to 1898. They were true believers in democracy and communism, but their dreams of creating an ideal community kept getting interrupted by internal strife and by problems with the world at large — not necessarily antagonism from outsiders, but mundane things like debt and crop prices. And yet they persisted, year after year, because they truly believed they had a solution to the problems of the world. That’s the thing about utopians . . . even if you think their ideas are nutty, you have to admire the way that they establish their lives according to a principle and put that principle out there for everyone to see. The big questions about human motivation, social structure, and fate versus free will, questions that most of us don’t think about most of the time, get placed front and center in an intentional community.
History has always been a favorite topic of mine. That sounds very interesting!
You mentioned Missouri and the Ozarks and on your blog I’ve seen many lovely photographs taken in these areas. Would you like to tell us a little about the places that are special to you?
I think the most remarkable thing about the Ozarks is the number of beautiful wild springs it has. The hills are not tall, but the rivers are amazingly clear and bubble up from springs that are among the largest in the world. Some of my favorites are Blue Spring on the Current River, Greer Spring on the Eleven Point River, and Falling Spring on Hurricane Creek, but there are thousands of springs all over the region, and each is fascinating in its own way.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
To my fellow writers — keep it up! In some small way, writers and artists are the glue that holds civilization together. And to my readers — thank you from a grateful writer. It’s a simple fact that without readers, writers have no reason for existence. I appreciate every comment, review, and e-mail I get.
Are there any links you’d like to share so that we can find you?
You bet! I blog at stevewiegenstein.wordpress.com
My website is www.stevewiegenstein.com
I’m on Twitter @SWiegenstein
My publisher’s website is blankslatepress.com, and you can order the book directly there, or from your local bookstore or online bookseller. I love to do book signings at local indie stores, so I always recommend them first!
Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to chat with us. Good luck with your book sales.
Hope you all enjoyed meeting Steve and will stop by to visit his website.