Behind the Writing: Rebecca Lawton
Posted by on February 27, 2014

We can’t wait until Steelies and Other Endangered Species: Stories of Water is ready for you to see! Although the book is not for sale yet, you can get your copy and help support production and promotion of Steelies here.

Author Rebecca Lawton is a geologist and former river guide. We asked her many questions, most having to do with her outdoor professions, in a blog post last week. But first and foremost she is a writer of rivers. So this week, we thought it’d be fun to find out more about Rebecca Lawton the writer. Here’s what she had to say:

You have been a geologist for 40 years. How does the experience you gain in the field help to shape stories like The Road to Bonanza in the forthcoming collection?
The settings and situations in many of the stories, including Bonanza, come directly from my own field experiences in the West. I didn’t make these places up. They come from my love of the places to which my geologizing and river running led me. I despair that they’ll ever be as beautiful and backward—in a good way—in our lifetimes, or for our children. In each story, I meant to turn the places and situations into water-based, extended metaphors. My premise is, we can’t seem to live well with water, but we sure as hell can’t live without it. Readers who dig deep into the stories in the collection will see how each character has a complex relation to water.

Which environmental authors have inspired you and why?
An early inspiration was Wallace Stegner, who I heard speak one time when I was high-school age and visiting Yosemite. He talked about literature and the West to a crowd of about 10 people, five of whom were my family members. I was so impressed with his knowledge, use of language, love of place, and modesty that I knew I was in the presence of someone special—a someone whose approach to writing was something I longed to emulate. Angle of Repose set me on a course of learning about geology as a way into the technical language of environmental writing.

Other writers who have inspired me include Edward Abbey, who I rowed through Cataract Canyon when I was a river guide already in love with Desert Solitaire, just as The Monkey Wrench Gang was being released; Gretel Ehrlich, whose Solace of Open Spaces and Heart Mountain are among my all-time favorite works and excellent models of place-based writing; Norman Maclean, whose A River Runs through It inspired much about my own novel, Junction, Utah; Barbara Kingsolver, whose career I followed beginning with the release of The Bean Trees and whose Animal Dreams also inspired much in Junction; Barry Holstun Lopez, whose works are among those I re-read regularly, especially River Notes; Gary Snyder, who caught my ear beginning with Jack Kerouac’s treatment of him as Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums, kept my interest through Turtle Island, The Back Country, Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, and many more and who is a progenitor of much environmental writing; Ellen Meloy, whose Eating Stone and Raven’s Exile and other works are wise, witty, and original. Also always on my shelves and influential for me: William Shakespeare, Charles Frazier, Jim Harrison, Tom Stoppard, Herman Melville, Mary Oliver, John Straley, James D. Houston, David James Duncan, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Kathleen Dean Moore, Harriet Doerr, John Muir, Ray Bradbury—and many more.

Photo taken by Rebecca of a park near her home.

Without giving away all of your secrets, tell us a little about your writing process. Do you have a place where you go to write? Is there a time when you write best?
I write best first thing in the morning—and I discovered only recently that I love to draft ideas while walking, especially in nature. While staying at Hedgebrook Retreat for Women Writers on Whidbey Island in fall 2013—the residency during which I completed Steelies—this phenomenon, which had always been true, became recognizable as part of my process. I’ve long taken notes while walking, and it was at Hedgebrook that I realized that the flow of ideas through me onto the page while I’m mobile on foot is a precious thing that deserves my awareness and nurturing. If I’m in the typing stage of any piece, I work best in my office, designed and built by Paul and me shortly after we married. I look out onto Doug fir, bay, and ash forest and work as the sun comes over the ridge behind our home. Out front of our home a tributary to Sonoma Creek runs under a steel bridge, built by friends of Paul long before I knew him, and it occurs to me every day how much this place and these friendships we are fortunate to enjoy all have supported my growth as a writer.

How long did it take you to write Steelies?
I wrote the first of the stories in Steelies and Other Endangered Species, “The Middle of a River in Flood,” when my daughter Rose was an infant sleeping twenty-three years ago. I didn’t work on the collection continuously through the years between then and now, as I’ve written several books in the interim that took my attention away from Steelies. But I always returned to it, as it was the first book I wanted to write—a collection of short stories about water—and although much work and life intervened, I knew how important it was that I complete it. Now, it seems to be coming at just the right time with just the right press.

To find out more about Rebecca, check out her website. To find out more about her forthcoming book, check out our previous announcement blog post here.

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  • Photo by Tyler Malone