Today we welcome author Monte Dutton whose Crazy of Natural Causes won a Kindle Scout nomination. He describes himself as opinionated, stubborn, independent, gregarious and intuitive His writing is honest, conversational, irreverent, satirical, and evolving. I have a feeling you’re ging to enjoy reading his other answers.
You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?
I’d want to eat at the cafeteria of a cattle barn because, invariably, the food is good at auction sales and farmers’ markets, and I’d be joined by John Steinbeck, Larry McMurtry, and FDR. Steinbeck, I believe, was the best American writer, but his brilliance intimidates me a mite. He is the literary equivalent of what Jake Gaither said about Bear Bryant: “He can take your’n and beat his’n, or take his’n and beat your’n.”
McMurtry? I consider him great but not intimidating. I relate to his writing style.
Roosevelt was the most significant figure of the Twentieth Century. He was a political genius. He’d charm the rest of us and get whatever he wanted. With Steinbeck, in particular, that would be fascinating to watch.
What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?
Morning. Time seems to accelerate as the day progresses. I’m most creative early. Afternoon is for chores and obligations. Nighttime is for reading, playing guitar, and watching TV. Once upon a time, I only drank coffee when it was free. Now I rely on it. It’s what I do when I start to yawn. I don’t like naps.
How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?
I try to read regularly. The best way to learn how to write is to read. Writing cuts into reading, though. I read what strikes my fancy, and it’s quite a mix. Sometimes it’s heavy. Sometimes it’s light. My reading is probably two thirds fiction, one third non. I intersperse history, sports, and biography with mystery, crime, and classics. I try to fill in the gaps. A couple years ago, I read Don Quixote for the first time. I was captivated not too long ago by Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds.
Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
The novelist I think most underrated is the late Wallace Stegner, who is more known as a teacher of great novelists than a great one himself. I relate to him because I think, in a different time, he had a father much like mine. I’m fond of John Fante’s irreverence. I see some kinship with John Steinbeck’s whimsical novels. Now for someone who is alive. I’m a fan of Chuck Klosterman, whose fiction and non-fiction are similarly amusing.
What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?
Depicting the world as it is, not as it should be. Making the world better isn’t my goal. It’s easy for me to call things the way I see them. It’s hard to write to meet expectations.
Journalism taught me not to be afraid of rejections. I want to get as close to the truth as I can. If I don’t piss off about fifteen percent, I’m probably putting them all to sleep. When I’m writing dialogue, I feel as if I’m inside the head of the character, and I can’t do that unless I talk the way he talks. Writing requires the guts to shoot straight.
What motivates you to write?
It’s what I do. It’s what I was meant to do. I couldn’t avoid it if I tried, and I have. I’m one of those kids – they’re in every town – who started writing sports stories for the local weekly when he was 15 and just evolved from spot news to features to magazine stories to non-fiction to short stories to novels, and now I’ve reached my destination and get to hone my style in an environment that is altogether fitting.
What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?
Chance Benford is a good, imperfect man cast among the slings and arrows of life’s absurdity. He’s a survivor. I often thought of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” while writing Chance’s adventures. He is a survivor, literally as well as figuratively, constantly avoiding, as best he can, the aforementioned slings and arrows. He takes a hit, deflects it, and moves on.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?
“Do today’s work today.” The editor of a weekly newspaper told me that years ago, and it’s an area where spending decades as a journalist left me good work habits. I’ve never had writer’s block because I just write. My own slogan is, “On my good days, I’m a writer, but most days I’m just a typist.” That’s all right. Write it. Later on, go back and make it better, but, for now, just write. I often warm up by writing a blog early in the morning. It gets the creative juices warm so that they will flow better.
At the beginning of Crazy of Natural Causes, Chance Benford is a football coach spinning progressively out of control. His wife has left him, and it seems as if the more erratic he becomes, the better his high school team performs. Then, within the space of a single morning, he’s fired from his job and almost killed in an automobile accident. He must start a career, any career except coaching, all over again, and has no memory of what happened before the crash. Crazy is just getting started. Chance finds redemption, but with it comes more trouble. He learns to roll with the punches in a world of absurdity. When Chance becomes religious, religious men want to destroy him. He gets by with help from an array of friends and by using his own stubborn vow to remain true to himself.