Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace–An Interview with Bill Wetterman

Bill Wetterman, author of Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace.

Bill Wetterman, author of Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace.

The first time I read one of Bill Wetterman’s books I asked myself, “What kind of novel is this?” Bill writes faith based novels—a genre that usually has little appeal for me—but he packs them full of action that pulls readers so deeply into the narratives that they can’t escape. And there are Bill’s characters: a porn star (The Fifth Step), spies and a world dictator (The Peacock Trilogy),a prostitute (Busted). Naturally I was excited when I heard about his new novel, Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace. And now that I’ve read it, I have a few questions for Bill Wetterman.

YellowstoneKindle (1)Q. Bill, most people think of Yellowstone as a beautiful national park filled with natural wonders, but in Yellowstone: A Fall From Grace, you made it the central feature in an apocalypse. How did you come up with that idea?

A. I read an article about Buffalo leaving the park a few years ago and the event sparked my imagination. The North American Continent’s instability along the west coast, the real threat of another earthquake in the New Madrid fault affecting the Mississippi River from Memphis to the Gulf, and now Yellowstone, a concern I’d never considered sparked one main thought: America isn’t prepared for the aftermath of any of them. It became a novel.

Q.The events you describe after the first eruption are extremely detailed. Where the ash will fall. The degree to which areas of the U.S. will be affected. The “nuclear winter” that will change the climate of the earth. How much research did you do to plot the paths of destruction?

 A. Great question, John. Unlike paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, and other genres, I take today’s headlines and push them into the near future—never use a date for events. I think about my audience. I don’t want a review like this: “The military stopped using armament like that after the Korean War. This guy didn’t do his homework. It’s worse with scientists. If I don’t know what the last three eruptions did, how can I write about the next explosion? I’ve included two research maps. Articles have been written about possible ejecta coverage if Yellowstone blows in January, April, July, and October, including the position of the Jetstream at those times of year to predict where the ash will fall and how deep. This is key to the novel for believability.

Q.One of the things I noticed right away was how you switched from first person when the scene was in your protagonist’s (Mary’s) point of view to third person in scenes where she wasn’t present. That’s a pretty experimental writing method. Why did you choose that technique?

A. I’ve done this before in Busted. First person plays to the depth of internal emotion better than third person. I want the reader to grow close to a person who’s hard to bond with. I’m going to marginalize or kill off most of the others anyway, so third person works for them. Transitions between the two are intentional. Mary’s character growth and change in values to meet a chaotic world demands I write her in first person. I would not have tried this on my first novel.

 

Concept photo for Mary, in Yellowstone: A Fall from Grace

Concept photo for Mary, in Yellowstone: A Fall from Grace

Q.Strong female protagonists play an important role in all your novels—The Fifth Step, Busted, The Peacock Trilogy. Do you choose those protagonists before you start writing or do they choose themselves?

 A. Since I research and create my world, the tension, and the character profiles before I put fingers to computer keys, yes. Everything is preplanned. Women readers project themselves into the female characters, and women make up the vast majority of readers. From a personal viewpoint, I write sexy, intelligent women skillfully. My males are manipulated by women, as is true in real life. Besides, I can project my fantasies into my novels much easier this way.

 Q.Your protagonist, Mary, is a member of the Creek tribe. Why did you choose to make her Native American?

 A. Several reasons. BK, Mary’s husband, selects her partly because she’s an Indian. There is a long range strategy to have a minority spokesperson, if a new government is formed. With Oklahoma as the setting, avoiding the Indian culture would be criminal. Mary Kenton must change her viewpoint on everything she knew about the world. An American Indian, a Christian, and a person with a servant’s heart, her character arc drives the novel. Besides, at the time I created the outline, the Creeks were attempting to build a casino three blocks from my house. I didn’t want to upset them.

 

Q.Yellowstone is a faith-based apocalyptic thriller, custom made for a couple of miraculous events. You didn’t use a single one, and still managed to keep faith central to the plot. Did you plan it that way from the beginning?

A. Yes. Plus, there is no Hollywood hero who rescues the world. No offense to your readers, America and the rest of the world have strayed so far from God that He will not toss us a lifeboat. Regardless of the catastrophe, survival won’t be pretty. Why should believing Christians be treated differently than the Apostles. Every apostle, except John, was either beheaded, skinned alive, or murdered for their faith. Yet they attained eternal salvation.

Q.You aren’t very kind to your characters in Yellowstone. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll tell you that some of my favorites were killed off after I’d grown quite fond of them. It definitely works. Can you tell us why you do it?

 A. Realism, John. In this new world, it’s useless to count on anything being the same when you awake up. Counting on others works as long as they are breathing. Survival depends on your decision making alone. Pillow-soft Americans awake up! The people lost supported Mary. I kicked the prop away to watch her crumble and rise stronger than before.

 Q.I remember you telling me you’d never write another trilogy, but Yellowstone ends in a way that probably leaves your readers wondering what happens next. That’s actually a perfect way to end an apocalyptic thriller, but will Mary and the other survivors be featured in another book?

A. Unfair question. Well, maybe fair, but it’s revealing the flaws in my character. The door is open depending on the response to the novel and what the theme of sequel—not trilogy—would be. I wrote Yellowstone as a standalone novel.

Q.Yellowstone features a number of characters who know a lot about military strategy and survivalist techniques. Is that all research, or do you draw on experiences from your past.

 A. I used to think survivalists tilted far right of center. And yes, I know many from personal contact. But I’ve changed my mind as the decades pass. I firmly believe disaster is coming—multiple disasters rolling one after another. I’m personally prepared for a month without resources. But I’m 73 and dependent on medications for my existence, preparing for a longer struggle isn’t practical, because I’d run out of medical resources.

Military tactics and weaponry had to be researched through my beta readers and internet research. Of course, no one has fought under the conditions I’ve created. I looked up every weapon, the range and impact, and the effectiveness. But in the end, the desperation of people fighting street-by-street with meat cleavers in their hands says it all.

 

Q.Your novels, including Yellowstone, are centered around faith but include plenty of sex and violence. You must get a wide range of feedback from your readers.

A. To say my writing is dark and edgy is honest. The real world is worse. My writing includes immorality, sexuality, greed, lust, murder, and betrayal. I’ve had interesting reactions from Christians and non-Christians alike. Here are examples.

“I won’t be reviewing your novel, Room 1515. When I got to Chapter 4, your characters got naked in a pool! Uh!” (I wonder if the same person went to see Harry Wilson’s War, starring Tom Hanks.)

“What’s with your cover? I mean it’s GREAT! But I didn’t expect the sexy thing from you.”

The real world is worse than fiction. But humans tend to avoid reality. My novels carry a theme of repentance in each. No matter how far a person falls, God can raise them up and eventually does. I’m tired of the media portraying Christians as scheming shysters or holier-than-thou fanatics. I’m tired or Christians saying things like, “I’m just relying on God.”

The rubber meets the road of faith by going through the fire and coming out stronger on the other side. God wins. So do we. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss my writing. I hope your readers learn something from what I’ve said. My style is my style. It works for me. I’ll leave you with one thought. Just because ‘the literary gurus’ make a rule, doesn’t mean the right author can’t break it. Just saying.

My First Library Book Fair Ever

Jim Stovall at the Hardesty Regional Library Book Fair

Jim Stovall at the Hardesty Regional Library Book Fair

Jim Stovall was the motivational speaker at my first Library Book Fair ever. The event was held at the Hardesty Regional Library in Tulsa on Saturday, Sept. 13. 2014. I didn’t have the slightest idea who Jim Stovall was or why I should be really happy he was speaking at an event. Shame on me.

I had no idea Jim Stovall was blind or that after losing his sight he went on to become:

  • An International Humanitarian of the Year
  • A National Olympic weightlifting champion
  • An Emmy Award winner
  • The Founder and President of the Narrative Television Network
  • One of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans awarded by the U.S. Jaycees
  • A National Entrepreneur of the Year
  • A recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce National Blue Chip Enterprise Award
  • A world-renowned author and speaker
  • The author of, The Ultimate Gift. Best seller and now a 20th Century Fox major motion picture
  • Karen Marie Graham, author and publisher

    Karen Marie Graham, author and publisher

    It takes me—and most authors—from six months to a few years to finish a book. Jim Stovall has managed to write fifteen best sellers including two that were made into major motion pictures by dictating them. At his Hardesty lecture he said The Ultimate Gift was dictated in five days start to finish and sent off to the publisher with no edits. This book was then made into a movie staring James Garner (another Oklahoman everybody should know about) and Abigail Breslin.

For his work in making television accessible to our nation’s 13 million blind and visually impaired people, The President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity selected Jim Stovall as the Entrepreneur of the Year.  He was also chosen as the International Humanitarian of the Year, joining Jimmy Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Mother Teresa as

Sean Al-Jibouri, Jazz guitar.

Sean Al-Jibouri, Jazz guitar.

recipients of this honor. Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes magazine, said, “Jim Stovall is one of the most extraordinary men of our era.”

Aside from having one of the greatest speakers ever, the book fair went pretty well. Forty authors—including me and Jim Stovall—were there signing and selling books. It’s safe to say he sold more than I did (probably more than everyone else combined) but commerce was brisk all around, exposure was good, and everybody went away smiling.

Karen Marie Graham, author of Promises You Keep, and children’s book, Thank You God for Everything, did an excellent job of organizing the book fair. When she isn’t writing or organizing events, Karen is the driving force behind the Oklahoma publishing company, Books-A-Daisy.

In the quiet moments between events, entertainment was provided by the outstanding jazz guitarist Sean Al-Jibouri.

 

 

Skeletons, Skulls and Mexican Festivals

Catrina Images on china. Market in San Miguel de Allende

Catrina Images on china.
Market in San Miguel de Allende

 

Skeleton in Mexican Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

Skeleton in Mexican Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

People in San Miguel de Allende love skeletons. Effigies wear skull earrings. Indigenous dancers have skull headbands and knee guards. Children’s faces are painted to make them look like stand-ins for Walking Dead. Every parade features a dancing skeleton or two.

The Mexican infatuation with human bones isn’t limited to parades. Skeletons star in Mexican cartoons. You’ll find plates and platters in any public market featuring skulls and skeletons. There are folk art sculptures of skeletons riding bicycles, cooking, repairing shoes and doing just about any mundane thing you can think of.  An Iconic figure of a well-dressed female skeleton named Catrina is seen all over Mexico. She was originally a sort of high-art political cartoon satirizing the life of the upper classes during the reign of Porfirio Diaz.

Everyone has heard of the Day of the Dead. It was co-opted into a Catholic-like holiday by the Spanish when they conquered the indigenous people 500 years ago. They managed to convince the local tribes to move the celebration from the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar (approximately the month of August) to November first and second to

Skeletons in Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

Skeletons in Folk Art. San Miguel de Allende

correspond with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. They also whittled the festival down from one month to only two days.

The Day of the Dead is a lot more like Halloween than Easter, and in case anyone’s forgotten, Halloween is not a Christian holiday. On day one of the celebration, people don wooden skull masks (Calacas) and dance in honor of relatives who have passed away. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars dedicated to deceased family members. If you have a

Effige with Skull Earrings. San Miguel de Allende

Effige with Skull Earrings. San Miguel de Allende

sweet tooth, you can eat a sugar skull with the name of a dead friend or relative printed on the forehead.

On the second day they take the party to cemetery where the festivities continues into the night. Then the living go home and the dead go back to being dead until the whole thing starts again next year.

Back when the Aztecs were running things in Mexico, the festival was presided over by Mictecacihuatl, “Lady of the Dead.” Skeletons were part of practically every celebration (as they are today in Mexico). Skulls were considered to be good luck and the gods were often portrayed as skeleton men. Quetzalcoatl (a star of the Aztec holy pantheon who saved the world by feeding his heart to the sun) was said to have stolen

Child in Festival Make Up. San Miguel de Allende

Child in Festival Make Up. San Miguel de Allende

bones from the god of the underworld and used them to create the different races of mankind. Things might have worked out better if he’d stopped before he made the Europeans.

Indigenous legends are so much more interesting than the spooky stories that thrilled and frightened us when we were young. That’s why everything I write has a little bit of indigenous magic woven into it.  Owl Dreams has a modern day Choctaw witch who changes identities instead of changing into animals. Southwest Gothic Tales includes a story about a modern day version of a Navajo skinwalker, and two more novels under contract with Pen-L Publishing, that deal with psychotropic drugs, secret societies and curses that might be magic or practical applications of psychology.

So far I haven’t worked skeletons into the mix, but who knows. If I spend enough time in Mexico I might give it a try.

A Little Spanish Wouldn’t Hurt

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

What do San Miguel locals think about all the Norte Ameriacano’s who have moved to their town over the last two decades? The gardener in one of the B & B’s we stayed in told me, “They should learn Spanish.” He said it in lightly accented English he learned while working in the United States. “Some of these people have lived here for ten years and they still don’t speak our language.”

That sounded like something I might have said—or at least thought—about the Mexican immigrants in Oklahoma City.

“A little Spanish wouldn’t hurt you either,” the gardener told me.

I took it to heart. My wife and I enrolled in The Warren Hardy School, which teaches

Level 2 Spanish Teacher at the Warren Hardy School

Level 2 Spanish Teacher at the Warren Hardy School

Spanish to English speakers in courses that typically meet three times a week, three hours a day, for three weeks. The classes are pretty effective, but as you might imagine, they leave some gaps in your conversational abilities.

Mexicans love it when you make an effort. They are very patient with Anglos who try to adapt to their culture. That doesn’t mean they’ll speak more slowly so you’ll have a better chance at understanding. When a Mexican speaks Spanish, the language

A little Spanish is useful if you want to shop in the local markets.

A little Spanish is useful if you want to shop in the local markets.

comes out like a heavy object dropped from a great height. The words keep picking up speed until they crash.

“Mas despacio por favor,”More slowly please—might work for a word or two, but by the end of the first sentence they’ve reached the speed of incomprehensibility again. Still, you pick up a word or two, and, what’s more important, they pick up a word or two, and even if what you said was wrong, they hardly ever laugh at you—at least while you are standing there.

Parroquia de San Miguel. The trees are shaped like cylinders.

Parroquia de San Miguel.
The trees are shaped like cylinders.

A friend and I were looking for a good place to photograph the Parroquia (church). We ran into a man coming down w very steep hill as we were going up. Our conbersation started out great. He told us (I think) there was no good view where we were going, but he would show us a  killer “Buena vista.”

Before long it was clear he was taking us back where we had started, chattering in Spanish all the way, with lots of gestures and the only English he seemed to know: “Basketball! What the hell!”

“We’ve got to get rid of this guy,” I told my friend. Hopefully, with my Warren Hardy Spanish, we could do this without hurting his feelings. With my best Warren Hardy Spanish I tried to tell him we needed to go back home. I handed him twenty pesos—something all Norte Americanos do reflexively—and said, “Necesisitamous ir a su cassa.”

He backed away a little more quickly than I’d anticipated, but it was working.

“What did you say to him?” my friend asked.

Perro de San Miguel

Perro de San Miguel

It took me a minute before I realized I’d told him, “We need to go to your house.” I wonder what he thought the twenty pesos were for.

For my writer (and reader) friends, there’s a bonus to taking Spanish lessons. You can plant Spanish Easter Eggs (as my sister in law Emily calls them) in your stories. Elmore Leonard did it in Bandits. He buried the phrase, “No es pesado. Es mi hermano,” in a letter from Ronald Reagan soliciting contributions to stop communism in Nicaragua. The phrase was never mentioned again or explained but it means: “He’s not heavy. He’s my brother.”—a joke that only the in crowd will get.

I’ve hidden a few Easter eggs Owl Dreams, Southwest Gothic Tales, and Messages. Not Spanish Easter eggs, but I plan to start doing that right after I finish Warren Hardy level 2.

The London Bobbies

The Horses and the Guards sit in a Zen-like trance.

The Horses and the Guards sit in a Zen-like trance.

There are plenty of police procedural and spy novels that include exploits of the British police, but when you see them on the street, they fit more appropriately into the speculative fiction genre. The police in London seem to live in two parallel universes.

There are the Guards, in their brightly colored uniforms with spiked helmets or tall bearskin (no kidding) hats. They are armed with swords and rifles; some of them sit on the backs of thoroughbreds so still they appear to be frozen in time.

The Guards assume Zen-like trances and stayed that way until the next shift of equally entranced replacements take up their posts in a mechanical,

Bear Skin Hats and rifles.

Bear Skin Hats and rifles.

slow motion ceremony. It looks as if they are under a magic spell. It’s too late for me to work guards like these into Owl Dreams—more’s the pity—but maybe I’ll put them in a future novel somewhere down the line.

 The policemen who take care of law enforcement in the material world are the Bobbies. They walk the streets of London armed with nothing more than nightsticks, stern looks, and jokes that fit every occasion. Bobbies wear blue uniforms (not unusual around the world but they started the tradition almost 200 years ago). They also wear “custodial helmets” left over from the 19th century.

 

Armed mostly with stern looks and jokes

Armed mostly with stern looks and jokes

The Bobbies are a pedestrian police presence the way old-time beat cops used to be in American cities. Of course there are Bobbies in police cars too. There are even a few on bicycles and horses. Those funny looking, phenomenally effective London cops are everywhere people gather. They have been a fixture in the British capitol since the first ones hit the streets in 1829.

The London police got their name from their founder, Robert Peel. In 1822, while he was Home Secretary, Peel proposed that the House of Commons form a committee to investigate the potential policing of London.

 

When they ride horses, the "custodial helmet" is replaced by something safer.

When they ride horses, the “custodial helmet” is replaced by something safer.

The citizenry—and members of the House of Commons—were understandably unenthusiastic. During the reign of Charles II, London had the “Charlies”. That police force operated at the pleasure of the aristocracy, which didn’t please the common man at all. The “Charlies” were replaced by the Bow Street Runners in 1749, administered for a while by Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones. The Bow Street Runners were better than the “Charlies”, but both police forces were intrusive in the private lives of citizens and were feared more than respected.

The public’s experience with London police was so bad that Robert Peel’s committee initially concluded that an effective system of policing could not be reconciled with a free society. To counteract this attitude Peel developed a standard of morals and behavior for the Bobbies known as the Peelian Principals. Using these principals he organized the London Metropolitan Police Force It was administered then, as it is today, from Scotland Yard.

 The first 1,000 Bobbies wore blue tailcoats (as opposed to the traditional military red) and top hats to more closely resemble the “common man”. Each was issued a wooden truncheon carried in a long pocket in the tail of their coats, a pair of handcuffs, and a wooden rattle to raise the alarm. By the 1880s the rattle had been replaced by a whistle.

 

New Scotland Yard

New Scotland Yard

Peele’s Bobbies had to be six feet tall (or as near as possible) and have no criminal history. They worked seven days a week for the grand sum of £4 per month. They wore their uniforms even when off duty to allay the public’s fear of spying. They were required to seek official permission to get married or even to share a meal with a civilian.

Scotland Yard is now world famous for its investigative work, but Robert Peel’s original Metropolitan Police Force were forbidden to investigate crimes. The Bobbies were there to enforce laws and pursue perpetrators only when warrants had been issued or when crimes were committed in their presence. The Bobbies weren’t even permitted to ask the victim of a crime who he thought might have done it.

 If investigative work was needed, citizens could employ detectives from the private sector. This situation may have given rise to Alfred Conan Doyle’s fictional super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Not quite in the speculative fiction genre, but close enough.

An Inconclusive Girl

“An Inconclusive Girl” was published in Kansas City Voices vol. 11, September 2013.

The ultrasound technician pointed to her nametag instead of introducing herself.

“Sylvia Anoli,” Mona Beaver read aloud. “Choctaw name.”

“Means messenger.” Mona thought the name was perfect for someone who did sonograms. She wanted to talk about it, but the tech’s expression killed the conversation.

“One sonogram’s all the Nation pays for,” Sylvia Anoli crossed her arms and waited for an argument.

“You want another, you have to write a letter.” The tech’s white skin and blond hair didn’t match the Indian name. Lots of white women married Choctaw men in this part of Oklahoma. Most of them looked happier about it than Sylvia. A bad marriage explained everything: the name, the frown, why the technician hated Indians.

You can learn more about Kansas City Voices and order the magazine at the Whispering Prairie Press website: http://www.wppress.org/main/