Sunday Interview – Steve Wiegenstein

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Happy Sunday, Everyone! Today, I have another interview with Steve Wiegenstein. You may remember the last time we spoke, but if you are a recent follower or would like to read it again to refresh your memory, you can find it here (July 22, 2012). Before we begin, if you’d like to read an excerpt from his first book, Slant of Light, to familiarize yourself with the story,  you can find it here.

Hi, Steve! Thanks for joining me again! Before we talk about your sequel, please tell us how Slant of Light has been received. Of all the reviews you’ve received, which one is your favorite?

The reviews have been so gratifying! Not a negative one in the bunch, and only a couple that I would even describe as lukewarm. I have two favorites. One was from Sarah Johnson, whose work with the Historical Novel Society is something I admire greatly. She’s the book review editor for Historical Novels Review and maintains her own blog, Reading the Past. She wrote, “A thoroughly American story with more than regional appeal, Slant of Light is intellectually involving from the outset, and its flawed characters have a way of latching onto readers’ emotions.” I loved that description. My other favorite was from a historian, Stephen Rockenbach, who reviewed it in Nola Diaspora. He praised the book’s “flawless research and relentless attention to detail.” And coming from a historian, that’s high praise! Here are links to those reviews: http://readingthepast.blogspot.com/2012/05/book-review-slant-of-light-by-steve.html

That’s high praise indeed! Congratulations! 🙂

Slant of Light

How has life changed for you since Slant of Light was published?

Well, I’ve been going to a lot more fairs and festivals! I believe in this book so much that I spend lots of weekends doing speaking appearances and promotional gigs of one sort or another. Thank goodness, my wife has been a trouper and accompanied me on most of them. 

What was your most thrilling moment since having Slant of Light published?

Two moments come to mind. First is the launch event, when we completely packed Subterranean Books in St. Louis and sold the place out. The clerks had to take names and promise to send people books as soon as they got in a new shipment! The second was when I came home one day and found a letter telling me that the book had come in second for the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction.

Fantastic! 🙂

I noticed a new section on your website –For Teachers’. Please tell us about it.

Some university instructors have started using the book in their English classes and I’ve had comments from secondary school teachers that they’d like to add it as an option to their students’ reading lists. So I asked a friend to create a teachers’ guide to the novel, and she did a marvelous job! It’s freely available for teachers to use in their lesson planning.

I’m glad they are studying it in the schools. 🙂

Do you know, yet, when the sequel to Slant of Light will be coming out in print?

I’m hoping for a fall release. The manuscript is at the publisher’s, now, and I’m waiting to hear if there are any changes requested. I’m eager for people to get their hands on it.

Would you like to tell us a little about it?

The working title is This Old World, from a hymn of the same name. Slant of Light ended with the dispersal of the men of the community with the outbreak of the American Civil War. This Old World begins with the end of that war and the return of the surviving men. In the interim, the women have been running the community for four years, so some tension will be evident. And in actuality, all of American society changed during that period. Pre-war beliefs and attitudes vanished forever, and everyone had to face a new reality of life in a society that was more mechanized, more impersonal, and in many ways harsher. This Old World explores those themes. A lot of readers’ favorite characters are back, but there’s a whole new crew as well.

I love anything historical. This sounds wonderful! 🙂

Are there any links you’d like to share?

You bet! 
My publisher’s website: www.blankslatepress.com
My own website: www.stevewiegenstein.com
Links to some reviews and a radio interview: http://www.stevewiegenstein.com/press_kit
I really enjoyed hearing your radio interview, Steve. I hope my readers pop over to give it a listen, too!
Thanks for joining us, today, and best of luck with This Old World. I hope we’ll hear from you again when it comes out in the fall. 🙂
* * * * *
Book blurb for A Slant of Light:
Set during the brink of the Civil War, this beautifully written novel traces James Turner, a charming, impulsive writer and lecturer; Charlotte, his down-to-earth bride; and Cabot, an idealistic Harvard-educated abolitionist as they are drawn together in a social experiment deep in the Missouri Ozarks. Inspired by utopian dreams of building a new society, Turner is given a tract of land to found the community of Daybreak: but not everyone involved in the project is a willing partner, and being the leader of a remote farming community isn’t the life Turner envisioned. Charlotte, confronted with the hardships of rural life, must mature quickly to deal with the challenges of building the community while facing her husband’s betrayals and her growing attraction to Cabot. In turn, Cabot struggles to reconcile his need to leave Daybreak and join the fight against slavery with his desire to stay near the woman he loves. As the war draws ever closer, the utopians try to remain neutral and friendly to all but soon find neutrality is not an option. Ultimately, each member of Daybreak must take a stand—both in their political and personal lives.
Steve Wiegenstein holds a PhD in English from the University of Missouri and has taught at Centenary College of Louisiana, Culver-Stockton College, Drury University, and Western Kentucky University. He is currently the associate dean for graduate students at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, and is a board member of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Sunday Interview #8

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 

On Facebook, just search for Steve Wiegenstein – Slant of Light (or click on the name for the link), and on both Amazon and Goodreads.

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. 🙂

Thank you!

Hope you all enjoyed meeting Steve and will stop by to visit his website. 🙂