Today I'm interviewing Glenn Nilson, author of Murder on Route 66, his debut mystery featuring bad boy biker Bobby Navarro. Glenn has just returned from his cross country trip on his motorcycle promoting the book. Unfortunately he returned to the clean-up of a flooded basement and a few other jobs around the house, but he's eager to share his adventures.
L. I know the high point of your trip for me was when you got home, but what was the high point of the trip for you?
G. There were many high points, the people I met, riding through country I enjoy so much, seeing old friends. But, I'd have to say the high point was sitting on the patio with my friend and biker buddy, Abe Martinez, sipping good whiskey and talking far into night. On the business side of the trip, it was probably driving into Tucumcari for the first time since I did my research for the novel and seeing an announcement on the marque at the chamber of commerce announcing my signing.
L. What was the low point?
G. That's easy. Sitting in a motel in Gallup, hearing how much the stream had risen, hearing that roads were closed, eliminating options for a high place to go to wait out the flood, and knowing there was nothing I could do about it, nothing I could do to help someone I love and wanted to protect. That was tough.
L. I know you’re writing a sequel to your first mystery and that it will be set in the southwest also. Can your wife expect you to take another trip cross-country to promote the next one?
How long do you think you can fool her wife into believing you’re promoting your books and not just simply having a good time with your biker buddies in Las Cruces, NM?
G. She's never said she loves the idea of my taking off on a motorcycle for several weeks. I don't expect that to change. I don't blame her. I wouldn't like it if our roles were reversed. She also knows riding has been an important part of my life for a very long time. I'd have to say, if there's another trip, we both know the time for us to talk about it is never when I've just completed the last one. As to the second part of the question, I don't think I've ever had her fooled on setting my story in the Southwest as a good excuse to go there. What better?
L. Why do you like the southwest as a setting so much?
G. That's a good question, especially given what I've just admitted. In part, I like the Southwest as a setting because I love the Southwest. Guilty. But I like it as a setting because it's a land that can render people into a simpler mix of qualities and character. It sometimes calls upon them to stand as tall and strong as they are able. That's good for writing strong characters facing intense challenges. Plus, the West always seems open to me. It feels free, unfettered. I think that makes it easier to convey basic values and morality issues, critical to a murder mystery.
L. Is your protagonist Bobby Navarro like you?
In some ways he's like I'd like to be. But he's a fictional character, and I know I have to let him be who he is, and I have to be who I am, and I'm happy to have it that way. I like Bobby, and I like who he is. I don't want to make him "like" me, even if we might share a thing or two in common.
L. You wife says you are a sour dough expert. In fact, she tells us that when you and she traveled cross country by car that the vehicle smelled like booze because you insisted bringing it along.Tell us about sour dough, how you make it, and why you like to cook with it.
G. Sourdough is a mixture of flour, water and an active yeast culture living off the flour and water mix. It's like a pet, you have to care for it, feed it, house it, and so on. You can start a culture by introducing the yeast, or you can let the yeast, present in the air, come and settle in for their new home. Once a good culture is established, you just have to maintain it. Part of that means using it, and there are dozens of delicious things you can make with sourdough, including pancakes, breads, and even cakes. One of my favorites is making sourdough English muffins.
L. My favorite sourdough is your flat bread on the grill. We could have it tonight if you’d buy propane for the grill. What don’t your reading fans know about you that might surprise them?
G. When I was growing up, around twelve years old, my mother taught me to cook on a wood stove.
L. I’m not surprised at that. It’s all about food with you, isn’t it? Tell us what’s in your saddle bags other than food, of course.
G. That’s like asking my mother what’s in her purse...everything I can get into them. Actually, since I like the long ride so much, my saddlebags are the result of careful selection. In the right hand bag, accessible away from passing traffic when I’m parked along the roadside, I keep my rain gear, gloves and facemask if I’m not already wearing them, a polar fleece pullover for cold weather, and my tools. I’ll usually have a leather vest folded on top of it all. I put my clothes and other travel gear in the left saddlebag, and the rest of my gear in a backpack I carry fastened to the back of the sissybar (backrest behind the rear seat).
L. Tell us about the places you stayed on your trip. I understand you avoided Hiltons and other fancy places. What motels attract you? Why?
G. While I may have a destination stopping point once in awhile, like Tucumcari was, I usually start looking for a motel when I’m running out of daylight and the odometer tells me I’ve put in a good day’s run, usually four hundred-fifty to five hundred miles. I like to watch for billboards advertising lower priced motels at an upcoming exit when I’m on an interstate. If not, I’ll drive through a town and check out the motels on either end. I prefer small towns to cities. On this trip, I wanted to stay in motels from the heyday of Route 66. There are quite a few available, and they help convey the romantic nostalgia of being on the Mother Road, especially the ones with the little car ports. I remember staying in them traveling with my parents as a kid. They were exciting as part of the adventure then, and still are. One I stayed in, the Blue Swallow, in Tucumcari, is known all over the world among devotees of Route 66. The owners have done a terrific job of making it up-to-date comfortable while preserving the ambiance of the past. I love Hiltons, but the old places just add something to a bike trip that seems to work. Plus, they’re cheaper.
L. What do you know about writing that you didn’t know when you began?
G. Since I first began writing, or left on my tour? Oh, Lord...where to start. I’ve always loved writing and wanted to write. So many people want to write and even have thoughts for a good story. What I know now is that you have to learn the craft, the genre, and the market. Writing is a skill which has to be developed, shaped and honed to a fine edge. It takes work. Lots of work. Writing is a business, so you have to develop some business skills and a business approach as well. Finally, there’s a big difference between “writing” and “being a writer.” When you truly think of yourself as a writer, you not only see the world differently, you engage the world and the people in it differently. That really sank in on my trip. I’m a different person as a writer. It’s exciting, and it feels good.
L. What advice would you give beginning writers?
G. Join some writing associations and groups, and attend their functions. You need to be around other writing professionals to become one. A critique group at the local level is helpful, and a chapter of a national organization is as important to a writer as any professional association is to some other avocation. Then, write, write, write.
L. Why don’t you and your wife write together? Don’t you like her?
G. Yes, I do. Question answered. We love talking with each other about writing, even sometimes talking about our own work. We’re supportive, interested, and enthusiastic. We write differently, however, and with different voices. Trying to merge everything into one effort probably would be disasterous.
L. How can your fans find you and how do you promote your book if the readers missed you on your tour?
G. The easiest way to find me is on my website, www.glennnilson.com. They can also reach my blog through my website and read about my tour there. In addition, I will continue to do other signings and presentations, such as the one I have scheduled at Huntington Memorial Library in Oneonta, NY Oct. 17th.
L. Thanks so much for joining us. I know your time is precious because your wife has assigned you the job of cleaning our the flooded basement and there’s also a rumor that she talked you into building a storage shed. You’ll hardly have time for riding, writing, or cooking, unless you go get that propane before dinner.
Now it’s your turn. What question would you like to ask readers?
G. How do you find the books you enjoy reading, especially books by authors with whom you weren’t familiar before?