Pamela Christie (P.R.), the author of two historical mysteries set in early Santa Fe is interviewed here by the timeless Puck.
Puck: Why on earth, PR, did you ever start writing a book?
PR: I was fed to the teeth with my day job. I was coming home from an escape trip across the west in a ten-year-old van, which broke down in Kayenta. The Navajo man at the gas station scrutinized my unhappy face and said, “That’s easy. Just quit!” Within two days I was home and at my desk. Practicing writing every day for four hours at the computer. Reading two mysteries a week, charting their flow. What are the elements? I was studying how to write. Setting a course for myself to learn not only to write, but to write sustainably.
Puck: Sustainability? Even in writing?
PR: For me writing sustainably meant nurturing the soul and keeping expectations reasonable. It was made up of things like doing yoga on the lawn before starting each day. Taking a walk in the arroyo mid-way through each writing session. Learning to stop on a high, when the writing was going so fast I could barely make myself quit.
Puck: A mighty pace. How long did it take you to write your first novel?
PR: Write a novel? What does that mean? I covered the canvas in six months. The book was finally finished and published three years later, and during most of that time I was working on it.
Puck: What portion of writing is the sweet and fiery creative process?
PR: Maybe a quarter, if you’re lucky a third. That’s when you’re in blessed oblivion to the rest of the world. So deep in your characters they call you on the phone, they short-circuit your love life. There were times that I could see downtown Santa Fe as it was in 1690, or in 1782. I nearly got run over by a tour bus while stepping off the curb—heading for the Palace of the Governors, seeing only the massive building the Pueblo people turned it into after the Pueblo Revolt—ladders sticking out of the roof tops, no doors at ground level---Bleep! Tour bus! It’s great to get out of this century for a while, but there are risks.
Puck: Like maybe you won’t want to come back? What was the hardest moment for you in these ten years of being an author?
PR: Ouch. There were two. One I won’t tell you about, but that time I planted my face on my desk and wailed, and eventually hurled things until I wore myself out.
Puck: You won’t tell why?
PR: No way. Too painful, but the other one happened up at Heron Lake. I’d finished my first book and needed to read it all the way through, to see what I had here. I was prepared to spend three days reading by the water—The first day I sat in a lawn chair in the shade of a juniper tree and read for maybe 6 hours, and I hated it. Hated the whole book. Here was this piece of ka-ka and right there was a lake. All 350 pages were about to go into the bottomless waters . . .
Puck: But for once in your life you restrained yourself. Because here’s a prize-winning novel, in its second edition . . . or is this now the third?
PR: Puck! You’re interrupting me. Third edition. I was in agony and God, whoever that is, heard me. A thunderstorm pulled up over the lake and unleashed explosions of lightning that looked like tree roots on fire. Lashings of rain started to flood the dirt roads, about to lay five miles of impassable mud between any pavement and me. I’m terrified of lightning. I’m too old to dig for five miles. I threw all the dirty dishes and the manuscript, the lawn chair and the entire camp kitchen, onto the floor of the van and high-tailed it to Santa Fe. Crying all the way. I didn’t look at the book for weeks. Too dangerous, might bring on more lightning!
Puck: What was going on there?
PR: Turns out just the usual. Except as a novice I didn’t know what happens when you cross over from creative brain to critical brain. Later I found other writers describing this period of agony. I heard somewhere that Steinbeck moaned to a friend, soon after finishing Grapes of Wrath, that it was the worst thing he ever wrote.
Puck: You’re an Anglo woman, getting up in middle years. What got into you that you decided to write from the head of a twenty-two year old Ute/Spanish male?
PR: Nando just showed up. He was good, capable, lacked confidence, but was canny. He was suppressed by not one, but two cultures, yet he still loved his crazy, mixed-up family. Nando and I hit it off right away. He still rides shotgun with me most days.
Puck: You brought him back for book number two: Dead Lizard’s Dance. After all that pain, it turned out you were up for more?
PR: Some of the torment was actually fun. Traveling around the southwest meeting cool people. Being invited to read inside a dozen or more Guerilla Fighter Independent Bookstores—up and down the Rio Grande and beyond. I met school kids dressed in the costumes of my characters, who delighted in interrogating the author.
Puck What about this history stuff? Aren’t you maybe a little loose with the facts, PR?
PR: My stories are based on human nature, which changes very little over time. Besides, what are historical facts? “Coronado burned 60 natives at the stake.” True? Maybe, maybe not, and can’t be proved anymore. What I want to know is what does a man think about when the soles of his feet start to burn? And was his mother watching? How did that sit with her?
Puck: Did you ever doubt you are a writer?
PR: No, but do you mean writer or author? The distance between those is a long ride. Seas of words, reams of paper, hundreds, probably thousands of hours alone with this work, and then a book—a published book, acknowledged as good and perched on bookshelves in the American southwest. It’s a tough journey and there are times of towering self-doubt. For me, it turned out I needed to write two books, to make sure that coming up with the first one hadn’t been a fluke.
Puck: Are there more out there? Can we expect a trilogy, or better?
PR: Only the Gods can say. I’ve got two Nando tales growing side-by-side in my head at present. I’m cruising up to page one hundred on one of them. But a whole book? You never know.
Puck: You trumpeted the virtues of learning to write sustainably. Has that worked for you?
PR: For the moment, probably not. For nearly ten years it did. Right now I’m letting gears slip, freeing my brain, letting some different weather blow through.
Puck: More thunderstorms, freezing rain, brilliant sunshine? Part of the recipe to get you going again?
PR: Yep. Get my feet on the land. Pretty soon new stories will butt their heads against the door, good native tales. I plan to be there and be in shape to snag them when they do.
Puck: Bottoms up, PR!
PR: Ever yours, Puck.