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Thursday, September 15, 2016
Interview With Author W. Clark Boutwell
inspired you to write your book?
I can place the inspiration of Outland Exile: Book 1 of Old Men and Infidels quite accurately,
although much of it is still lost to me. A ten-year old Ghanaian boy had
attached himself to me the first trip to the Malaprusi district of Northern
Ghana, while I was working at a mission hospital there. I was dusting a camera
(the hamarttan was blowing in from the Sahara) when he offered me a rendition
of his nation’s national anthem. Like most of the ilk, it was full of
admonitions to good behavior and condemnations for selfishness, all to grow a
better nation. I reciprocated and while my young friend was trying to recover,
I mentioned that the USA was only about 230 years old, rather younger than the
Malapruli Empire’s near 600 years.
not America always been?” he asked.
actually both the US and Ghana were colonies of England,” I mentioned off hand.
has never been a colony.” says he.
and a bit dismayed that my friend’s education was lacking, I remembered that
when I was his age, my Weekly Reader
was full of news about Kwame Nkrumah’s leading the first British colony of Gold
Coast into independence. I countered, “Then why is it you speak English and
Cote D’Ivorie speaks French?”
smirked a little.
Ghana is an English speaking country,” says he.
young friend’s father and grandfather were alive. The old man was an avid
football fan. I watched the semi-finals of the Africa cup that year as a guest
in his mud-walled hut, on a nice color television. My friend refused to
translate for me the comments made by his grandfather when Ghana was defeated.
Surely, this good man was capable of telling my friend the truth about Ghana’s
origins. Perhaps he had.
had suffered terribly under Nkrumah’s eventual dictatorship, but Accra is still
crammed with memorials to him.
you have no past, how long can you have a future?
started me thinking as to what America would look like without any of its past
to leaven the narrative of our politicians.
seed for Old Men and Infidels was
2. What is it about?
Outland Exile is about people,
countries, power, and time.
I imagined two
countries: one with no one over the age of forty and another country with a
life expectancy of 150 years or so. This is not so speculative. We are well on
our way. The world is definitely getting younger. The average age of Americans
has dropped to the lower thirties due to improved survival of children and lack
of major wars. In most developing countries it is even more pronounced and for
much the same reasons. Ghana, as an example, has an average age of twenty-two.
the world is getting older. The life expectancy of Americans since the end of
World War II has gone from the early sixties to the early eighties. In
developing countries, again, this is more pronounced. Ghana, for comparison,
has seen its life expectancy go from forty-eight to sixty-three in the same time.
I imagined a
country, the Democratic Unity of America that enjoys full employment, free
health-care, education and housing, computer-less surfing, frequent binding
plebiscites, and recreational drugs at quite reasonable prices. The elderly,
those forty and above, enjoy their own retirement facilities away from the
bustle of urban life, so as not to contaminate with their error and fatigue, a
society based on youth, vigor and innovation.
I imagined another,
poorer, less well graced, country, the Restructured States of America, which,
nevertheless, has a cheap medical treatment whereby one may reasonably expect
to live a vigorous, healthy life well into their second century.
these countries and let them incubate for a few generations before taking one
individual from the young country and dropping her into the old country. I took
talk about how a character “comes alive” to them and they merely transcribe
their imagined character’s actions.
I was not
blessed with one such character, but two. They both sprang forth fully
conceived on the first day I started writing, down to the color of Malila’s
eyes and Jesse’s off-and-on Glaswegian accent. Both of them are middle aged.
Malila at seventeen, is in mid-career in the Unity’s military when she becomes
an unknowing pawn to her superior’s ambitions. Jesse, as it happens, is also
middle aged. As a frontiersman, poet, man-killer, colonist, and country doctor,
Jesse has made good use of his first seventy-six years; he still has “a few
careers” he wishes to explore. Then he captures Malila.
The basic arc
of the Jesse-Malila story is already competed. Book One, Outland Exile, takes Malila through her enlightenment of her own
homeland and her decision to leave it. Book Two, now in draft, takes her
through a harrowing escape, only to be captured again once she leaves. He
captor is green. Book Three weaves the story of the ten major characters, but
especially Malila and Jesse, into a showdown in a freezing-cold basement in
Atlanta during its invasion by Unity forces in August of 2129.
3. What do you hope will be the
everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
I have, as a
first-time author, great hopes for my baby, Outland
Exile. I think it is a funny, serious, thoughtful, and at times, perhaps, a
profound speculation on what the world may yet become. It is hard-science. With
very few “necessary” fictional inventions, all the science it contains is here
today. More importantly, the political and societal forces that create the Old
Men and Infidels “world,” are already clearly evident.
The charge of
bigotry has become a cudgel wielded by some for trivial gains in absurd
crusades. Even as this crusade advances against the culture of tolerance of
thought, the freedom of speech and the sanctity of the university, authentic
bigotry is making huge strides in America that few thought possible forty years
ago. The groups that can now be publically vilified and even righteously
chastised in public now include the aged and those of faith. Threads on social
media that propound opinions are ended, as often as not, by the loser claiming
his opponent is old or a Christian and thus need not be argued against.
At the same
time, the rather tenuous thesis that somehow a bureaucrat can make decisions
for an entire country goes unchallenged. That these unelected, detached, isolated
individuals, immunized from retribution for their poor decisions, can make
better choices for our huge country than locally elected legislatures is
absurd. It is the story of Babel all over again. We Americans speak with many
voices and should. Malila talks about her distaste for glory and her new found
appreciation for small things “the smile of a baby and how men and women live
and get old together” as the real wealth of the savage outlands. She may be
4. What advice do you have for writers?
This is going
to be short and probably rather trite. I only know what my life has become
since I started writing what I imagined would be a short story in February
2013. I have had to unlearn much of the science/medial English that I learned
during my forty odd (some would say peculiar) medical career. Moreover, as a
Canadian-American, I started off with a few engrained peculiarities that have
left more than one editor gasping. Please do not consider this sage advice but
rather a hewn path into a thicket.
A)Write! Every day, rain or shine, in
sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Yes, your work is sort of a
marriage. It takes time and attention to make it work. I started getting up at
0530. In over three years, I have missed less than a dozen times. If not time,
try word count, or complete an outline division, but write!
B)Don’t Edit! Editing has its own piquant
attractions. Save it for later. Don’t work out inconsistencies, discontinuities
or glaring errors even. Why? See rule A above.
C)Change something! When you get stuck,
as you surely will, it matters little what you change.
a new character. You can murder him/her off later if you need to. But have him/her
start talking. Dialogue is a great stimulant for plot jockeying.
differently. Paper and pen. Outside rather than in. Bottom to top (imagine
where your characters have to be and work backwards from that point.) See rule
to a coffee shop, a dog park, a ball game, any place you can talk to random
humans. On a whim I went to a local baseball game and sat down by a guy, my own
age. By the bottom of the sixth, I knew his name, city, history and the disease
that was killing him.
to a library where you cannot talk to anyone. They have books there. Read some.
to your significant other. Listen to any suggestions about the book. Do the
opposite. Unless they are similarly
afflicted as you are with this “writing” thing, they are more interested with
your mutual welfare than you may be. Writing is conflict.
5. Where do you think the book publishing
industry is heading?
It seems to be
galloping off in all directions. The odds are getting worse and the size of the
bet keeps escalating.
bound paperbacks, mass-marketed paper books, hardbound books; the end products
are diverse. The delivery systems seem to morph on a daily basis. Payments are
easier than ever. Publicity is limited only by imagination. However, the
consolidation of the publishers into such a very small number of Cinderellas
and such an ever-increasing multitude of dwarfs cannot be good. My sympathy is
with the entire industry, from us writers to those who try to get people to pay
good money for our labors.
The end result
depends on the public eventually funding the whole show. With the huge number
of free downloads of stories, and books, unless the present chaos settles down
a bit, it remains, for an independently-published author, like I am, very much
a dart game in a wind storm. Any random hits have less to do with design or the
quality of my novel and so much more to do with luck. I am NOT the impecunious
garret-writing starving artist. I can pay for publicity, but it is like bailing
with a colander: much effort for little return. For Outland Exile, it is worth it to me, however.
6. What challenges did you have in writing
My last class
in creative writing was with Mrs. Helwig at Upper Moreland High School in 1966.
Since then, I have written only for my craft, medicine. That sort of wreaks you
for writing fiction. Subjunctives galore, passive voice, peculiar verb use,
arcane vocabulary and paragraph-long compound sentences, are just a few things
I needed to unlearn. I was aided by being confident that I had something to say
and the ability to say it. The “how” took some time.
I am still a
full-time physician, with frequent night-calls and midnight trips to see sick
babies, earning the money to publicize Outland
Exile. The upside to this has
been professional insomnia. I wake up fast. The down side is a rather messed up
schedule, which is the proximate reason for my preferred 0530 writing gig.
I am not young.
Within the month, I will be 68, with no plans to retire until my wife tells me
I can. Unfortunately, I also have some of the diseases that flesh is heir to.
Besides a few chronic diseases (we all need a hobby, after all), I learned,
during this long writing process, that I have recurrent cancer. While I refuse
to think this is anything too dramatic, it does change your outlook. I
certainly do not want to slow down my writing. I feel I have at least four more
books in the Old Men and Infidels
series. Times a wastin’.
7. If people can only buy one book this
month, why should it be yours?
I am not a greatly sentimental man. Despite being surrounded
by babies, I consider cute an occupational hazard. Pink ponies have been known
to make me nauseated. Moreover, I have more grim stories and experiences to
tell about the death of innocents than any three drill sergeants could stomach.
Yet, I wrote parts of Outland Exile
through tears. The words seemed to spill out, telling a story I was hearing for
the first time. It made me weep.
Going back to do the numerous cycles of editing is meant to
be a rational, judgmental even cerebral process. There are several passages in Outland Exile that made me weep with
each reading, even after the book was published.
I doubt whether there are many readers who are “wired” the
way I may be. Nevertheless, I think we all read for the emotional nourishment
good fiction can provide. I think Outland
Exile can provide that emotional feeding.