Carol was kind enough to field some questions about Gold Under Ice and the continuing adventures of Dan Stark:
Q: Your first novel, God’s Thunderbolt, was an unqualified success, winning a Spur Award and a raft of devoted readers. What did you learn from the experience of writing, publishing and marketing that book, and how did you apply those lessons to Gold Under Ice?
A: In the course of writing God’s Thunderbolt, I found my voice, that nebulous thing new writers are counseled to search for. It can’t be put on like a pair of socks because it comes from inside someplace, and I certainly can’t define it. It’s just how you write that’s different from how another author writes, like Faulkner and Hemingway. In publishing and marketing it, I learned about finding the niche market, which means to define your audience. I was taught that in 8th-grade English class. I write for Montanans, those who live here and those who don’t, and for those who are Montanan in spirit. Those who think “cowboy” is good. Former Governor Blagojevich said, “I’m not some cowboy….” And he’s right. He couldn’t qualify.
Having defined my niche market and found my voice, I just kept on. Regarding publishing, one thing changed. You asked if Gold Under Ice could be the inaugural book for Missouri Breaks Press, and I was honored. I don’t feel as if I’m writing in an empty room now.
Q: What awaits readers who dive into Gold Under Ice? What is Dan Stark up to in the second book?
Gold Under Ice is far more wide-ranging than was God’s Thunderbolt. Half the novel is set in Virginia City, and half in New York City. The tying thread is gold, Montana gold that Dan Stark brings to New York to pay the debt his father left. He doesn’t have enough gold, so he decides to repay the debt in greenbacks, the currency that the Lincoln administration printed to pay the Union Armies and buy supplies. That leads to trouble because speculation was considered disloyal, if not downright treasonous. Dan’s autocratic grandfather is beside himself about it, because he thinks paying debts with paper is dishonorable.
Q: The book, in part, explores an aspect of the Civil War years that isn’t necessarily covered in depth in history textbooks (disclaimer: I was educated in Texas public schools, which seem to be dismissing Thomas Jefferson, so what do I know?). What was the role of money in the conflict, and how does that entangle Dan Stark?
The role of money, either gold or greenbacks, isn’t well studied and it certainly doesn’t find its way into history textbooks much. When I began to research Gold I discovered a lot I didn’t know about money during the Civil War. It’s a fascinating subject, and I had to fight to keep from writing nonfiction. For the first time, the federal government printed money, the greenback, because there was not enough gold to pay for everything. Gold reserves began to run out, so at the end of December 1861, the banks closed. They refused to honor demands because they hadn’t enough gold to meet them. The first Legal Tender Act was the nation’s first declaration that paper money would be accepted in payment of debts already incurred. Congress passed two more acts, each time allowing for the printing of more paper.
Then, of course, many saw a speculative opportunity and began to trade in gold against the greenback. Fortunes were made and lost on the Gold Exchange, which was barred from the Stock Exchange because the directors thought it was treason to trade in gold. As gold rose, the greenback lost value, and the greenback was the Union’s money. Therefore, to cause the greenback to lose value was to be disloyal. That’s a conflict within Dan, who is a radical abolitionist and supporter of President Lincoln.
Q: Where can readers get a copy?
Q: Your intricately, lovingly written historical fiction requires a good deal of research. What were some of the challenges in writing Gold Under Ice?
The math! Luckily Dick, my husband, is a math whiz who built a spreadsheet that let me enter the amount of raw gold, the purity, the premium (the current price of gold in the Gold Room), and come up with the current value of gold and the greenback. At one point (in the 1970s) I held a NASD securities license, so I’d had some (very rusty) background. Besides, a good friend who is a financial analyst read the whole book, especially the trading scenes, and corrected some things. And Google Books, with its marvelous scanning, enabled me to located books on economics and banking written in the late 1860s and the 1870s and a couple of contemporary accounts of gold trading and what it was like in the Gold Room.
Q: I was struck by some of the universal themes in Gold Under Ice — the tension between responsibilities to family and the desire to make one’s own way in life, yearning, conflict. From your perspective as the author, what’s the overarching theme of the book?
I don’t know. Theme, I believe, comes out of story, and I truly never gave a thought to theme as I wrote either book.
Q: Start to finish, how long did it take you to write Gold Under Ice?
I wrote a truly awful first draft for NaNoWriMo in November 2007, threw 95% of it away, and let it sit while I marketed and then self-published God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. In 2008 I went back to Gold, so I guess the really intense work took 18 months – two years.
Q: Can you describe your work process? Are you an aggressive plotter and outliner, or do you let the story carry you along as you write it?
I use sticky notes on a long piece of butcher paper to plug in scene ideas and move them around. When I know what order the scenes fall in, I begin a scene outline in a Word table. I always know how the book starts, what happens, and how it’ll end before I write. Then come the intervening scenes, the ones that get us there, in a detailed scene outline. But as I write, things change. My understanding of each scene deepens, and I understand larger implications, see new aspects of characterization, let the characters direct more. I write in scenes, not chapters, and people said about God’s Thunderbolt that reading it was like watching a movie. I see the scenes and events as if I were watching a movie, and I write them down. In draft after draft after draft after….
Q: What sort of pleasure reading do you engage in?
I can’t relate to some genres (sci/fi, horror, fantasy, paranormal, zombie stuff), so my reading is mostly limited to very well written thrillers (James Lee Burke), mysteries (John Dunning, Craig Johnson), and literary novels (E. L. Doctorow, Kim Edwards), and some western fiction whose writing is outstanding (Howard Cobb). And poetry. I love Jane Kenyon, Shakespeare (of course), Billy Collins, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, and Mona Van Duyne. (I might also mention a great new Montana author named Craig Lancaster, whose 600 Hours of Edward is one of my favorites.)
Q: For an author, it’s a dance between the current book and the next book. We’ve heard about the current book. What’s next?
Gold III (working title) set in Virginia City, again with Dan Stark as the protagonist, amid the beginnings of a judicial system at odds with the Vigilantes.