1. What is a Big Sky Romance Novel?
Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic end. “Patch of Dirt” falls into the second category: lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded.
If you have ever been to Montana you will know why it is called The Big Sky Country, it’s a land of wild untamed nature and overpowering beauty. The perfect setting for a Big Sky Romance.
2. Why is a big city Easterner like you so captivated by the culture and stories of the American West?
It’s the myth of the American Frontier featuring a hero, whose idealism drives him to right wrongs and/or seek vengeance for injustices done to innocent people. He is strong and self-reliant. The plots of these westerns are simple and there is plenty of action, and a damsel in distress—perfect escapism fiction.
The cowboy series on TV and radio became my early primer on the Wild West: Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Hickok, The Cisco Kid, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and who could forget The Lone Ranger. Saturdays were special times. At the age of seven I wanted to be a cowboy.
The first Western I read was Luke Short’s “Coroner Creek.” I was in the ninth grade. Then some Will James and Zane Grey, whom I devoured. And there were always the movies.
3. The American West once symbolized a place where one could live free, reinvent one’s self, and own a “patch of dirt.” Is that concept of the American West still viable and grounded in the reality of today?
Although the appeal of the Western still lives on with western novels and films portraying the west as both a barren landscape and a romanticized idealistic way of living with self-reliant, strong-willed men, the real west is populated with farmers, ranchers, like my college educated cousin, and others who pursued their dreams in the harsh beauty of a land that they shaped each individual. My cousin had 440 acres of wheat and thirty head of cattle. Some years he showed a profit, others not, but he loved Montana and the freedom and independence of being a rancher under the Big Sky. There was nothing else he wanted to do. The one time he traveled back East for a visit it was too closed in for him and wasn’t a place where a man could breathe. Even though I was only in Montana for nine months I knew how he felt.
4 One of your characters is a Vietnam War veteran who is psychologically and physically traumatized. Was it difficult to conceive of this character and write about war trauma in an accurate and respectful way?
When I was in college one of my dorm mates had recently returned from Vietnam. Car and truck backfires and other loud noises spooked him. He had trouble studying and wouldn’t say much about his time in Vietnam. He was a quiet drunk with haunted eyes. Many times he’d wake up and pace about his room. His girlfriend gave him a lot of comfort, but it wasn’t enough and he left the college. A writer friend who had spent many months in Afghanistan also was helpful when it came to defining PTSD.
5. At the heart of the novel is a couple’s desire for a baby and the bargain that is struck with another man to help the couple conceive the child. The plot deviates from the Western novel formula. Why did you choose to write such an unconventional story in a time-tested formulaic genre?
I don’t think “Patch of Dirt” is unconventional. Redemption, second chances and bettering oneself are universal themes in both films and literature. Westerns are no different; their characters face numerous challenges as they make their way back into the world. Each of the main characters in “Patch of Dirt” has their own challenges as they work to improve their lives. Joe dreams of having his own patch of dirt. Frank wants to carry on his line with a son and Rita finds a life away from working at a gentlemen’s club. The more unconventional westerns are the suspense/mystery thrillers, inspirational, time travel romances, spicy romances, science fiction, and horror novels.
6. Many of your novel’s characters are broken people yearning for compassion and a connection with others. Is the Western a lonely genre despite the majesty and breadth of its setting? Why?
The western loner is a self-made man, a rugged individual who loves the land, and is out there by himself, roaming the country and living by his own moral code. I remember my first impression of Montana. The immense beauty of the land, the tawny prairie stretching fifty miles to a range of rugged snow-capped mountains. I felt exhilarated, small and lonely in the presence of such grandeur.
7. The American West’s male archetype is strong, self-sufficient and hard-drinking; this notion of manhood is romanticized in the genre. Why did you choose instead to portray an unflinching and unromantic reality of the effects of alcoholism on marriages and children?
I came from a dysfunctional family. My father, a gifted Ophthalmologist, was a hoarder, a chronic alcoholic and a paranoid schizophrenic and was never able to express his true feeling for his children. Much like Joe’s father it was hard for my father to show much emotion