We're visiting today with one of Avalon's authors of western fiction. Grab a steaming cup of your favorite brew and join us as we chat with David Unruh about his latest release The Last Voyage of the Steamer Barnard Clinton and the joys of living in the 49th state.
Captain Culpepper's 235-foot-long sternwheeler, the steamer Barnard Clinton, is going to try to make a record second trip in 1866 to the head of navigation on the Missouri River. The railroads are expanding, and the successful trip of the big steamboat has attracted the attention of some unscrupulous railroad investors. They would like the big steamer to fail, and to this end, they have hired several bad characters to join the steamer on her upriver voyage. They intend to sabotage the vessel, and if there is loss of life, so much the better.
Culpepper and his crew will have to deal with these outlaws, low water, other outlaws, Native Americans, and a young pilot who can't seem to keep the Clinton off the bottom of the river. And, as if he didn't have enough on his mind, the captain is distracted by a beautiful but mysterious lady.
Wow! That's one intriguing set-up! This is your third western for Avalon. What appeals to you most about writing westerns?
I like reading the history of the nineteenth century, especially in the West. By writing, I can live vicariously in those times. (I don't think I'd like to actually live back then.)
Writing about them is an excellent solution then. Your stories take place predominantly on a river going steamboat. What made you choose the river rather than the more typical ranch/farm/bordertown setting?
I've always liked boats. I've owned several, including a small cruising sailboat. The river boat era didn't
last very long, but it produced a lot of adventure and drama. As one character pointed out in the
novel, a river boat was a floating hotel, restaurant, saloon, and warehouse.
I'd never thought of it that way, but so true. So, where did your fondness of westerns come from? Were you a fan of the genre in your youth?
I grew up going to the movies and seeing Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and, of course, John Wayne.
Strange to say, but I don't read a lot of western fiction. I usually read the some of the winners of
the Spur Award competition, but I read more for style than for content. I like to think my own
novels have a different slant on life in the nineteenth century than the ones I read.
From what I'm seeing in your blurbs, I believe they do. Now, this is your second novel featuring Captain Culpepper. What prompted you to write another journey with this particular character?
There's a little of my own father in Captain Culpepper, along with some other people I've met and
admired. I just wasn't ready to be done with the character.
Finding a bit of your father in your main character must be a help. But what about the rest of the story? Writing stories in a historical setting requires a great deal of research. How do you know when the research is done and the writing can begin?
I read a lot of non-fiction, not necessarily with an eye to writing. If I get inspired by
something I've read, I'll start building a story around it. Then, as I write, I stop periodically to
make sure what I'm writing is factual or at least credible. So, the answer, I guess, is that the
research and the writing take place at the same time.
Your bio lists your home as being located on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. Are you a lifelong resident of Alaska? If so, what keeps you there? If no, what tempted you to relocate there?
I've lived in Alaska since 1951, my early childhood was in Ft.Worth, Texas. The thing that
keeps me in Alaska IS Alaska. We got around 150 inches of snow around my house this year - I
had to shovel my roof off several times and I enjoyed every minute of it. My dog and I take long
walks in the woods or on the beaches of Cook Inlet. Last week we saw a sea lion. A pregnant cow
moose stood next to our kitchen window this morning so close I could have touched if not for the
window. And as I drove to town moments ago, we could see Mount Redoubt, an active volcano,
and it was steaming. How could I replace that?
I don't think you could replace that -- sounds wonderful and amazing (except for shoveling snow off the roof *s*). Your description makes me want to embark on a trip north right away and experience that environment. Plus, Alaska has such a rich history. What would make you consider telling an Alaska-set story?
I'd like to. For the present, I have a list of ideas for westerns that I need to process - either write
or discard the idea. My joke is that I have no trouble with "writer's block". My wife tells people,
"He's got lots of words!" Just not enough time.
Not facing writer's block sounds like a blessing! So what's next for Captain Culpepper and David Unruh?
I have submitted a sequel to the LAST VOYAGE to Avalon, but I don't want to give too much away
and spoil the LAST VOYAGE for readers. I am also submitting a sequel to my first novel,
TRAIN TO CHEYENNE
Fingers tightly crossed we get to see those sequels soon. In the meanwhile, how can your readers keep up with you - website, blog, facebook?
For now, I just have email, and readers are welcome to write me - firstname.lastname@example.org. Use the title
of one of my books in the subject heading and don't include attachments, because my internet
connection is too slow and spotty.
David, thanks for taking time from your schedule to visit with us today. Best of luck on your latest release!
Thanks, Jen. I enjoyed it.