Chuck Greaves on writing
Author’s latest book is Hard Twisted’
By Rachel Segura
Journal Staff Writer
Taking a chance should be the title for author C. Joseph Greaves’ next novel. Based on the story of his journey to become a published writer, it would be a nice fit.
As a trial lawyer in Los Angeles, C. Joseph “Chuck” Greaves and his wife left the City of Angels when he retired in 2006. They lived in Santa Fe until January of this year when they came to McElmo Canyon.
His inspiration for writing sprang up in 1994 while on a Thanksgiving hiking trip in Johns Canyon near Mexican Hat, Utah. As he and his wife were hiking a trail it began to snow. The heavy silence of snowfall, and the uninhabited canyon, fell all around them as they turned back. But they were delayed when they came upon two human skulls lying mysteriously on the ground. A thunder clap rolling through the canyon, broke the deafening silence and awakened a sudden curiosity in Greaves.
He tracked his curiosity to a woman in Mexican Hat who owned a trading post. According to her, the skulls belonged to two sheepherders who were murdered in the 1930s over land settlements and greed.
Upon returning to California, it was all Greaves could think about.
When he retired, he knew he wanted to write, and this tale was the perfect hitch. The haunting story of Johns Canyon began a 15 year search of fact finding that would eventually lead to Greaves’ sophomore novel, “Hard Twisted.” This literary force of fiction, born from a story of kidnap, murder, secrets and betrayal, was released on Nov. 13 with a book tour to follow, starting on Nov. 19.
The author kindly offered the Journal his thoughts on writing, what it took to land his publishing deals and what it’s like to be compared to famed author Cormac McCarthy.
How important was reading as a child, an adolescent and an adult?
Hugely important. As an adolescent, I read my sister’s entire set of Nancy Drew mysteries, and that proved to be a gateway drug to Ray Bradbury, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout. I’ve always been a voracious reader, of literary fiction for the most part, and that habit is inculcated early in life. Parents take note.
What makes a book appealing to a reader other than tastes or interests?
I know that I’m personally reluctant to read books that fall outside the genres to which I naturally gravitate. That’s why book groups are so valuable—they force you to stretch your reading muscles. I belong to a group in McElmo Canyon, and as a consequence, I’ve enjoyed several books this year that I’d otherwise never have read. The common denominator among those books was great writing. Great writing overcomes all barriers.
Tell me about “Hard Twisted.”
It’s set in Depression-era Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. A young girl and her father are living on the side of the road, homeless, and they meet a drifter from Texas named Jimmy Palmer. The drifter kills her father and kidnaps the girl. From there, he takes her, basically, on a year’s killing spree all over the West. After he commits this double murder in Utah, they go on the run and eventually get caught in Texas. I was fascinated with the girl more than anything so the story is told from her perspective. The Valley of the Gods is a beautiful place but it is harsh, stark country for a girl her age. It was a typical Stockholm Syndrome situation.
When trying to get published, how did you stay positive while being rejected?
It takes a thick skin, and a breathtaking leap of faith, to quit your day job in order to write full-time for four years without a contract. I guess I just believed in what I was writing, and that if given a fair reading, it would find both an agent and a publisher. Happily, that’s exactly what happened. I was luckier than most. I received around twenty form rejections from New York agents, and then I entered both of my manuscripts in the 2010 SouthWest Writers’ international writing contest. There were 680 entrants that year, and “Hard Twisted” came in second, and “Hush Money” came in first. Within two weeks I had an agent, and within six months I had two publishing contracts, with St. Martin’s Press and with Bloomsbury.
Describe a typical day of writing.
I get up, eat breakfast, write until 1:00, eat lunch, then generally put in another hour or so of editing. I’m usually tapped out by 2:30, and move on to real life.
Why was your debut novel not the novel that led you into the direction of writing?
I didn’t want my first book to be literary fiction. As a novelist trying to succeed, that genre is a little harder to sell, so I went with a more popular fiction genre. “Hush Money” is a legal thriller set in Los Angeles. It was very well-received.
Some authors feel their writing contains bits of themselves, some don’t. In your opinion, do authors draw from parts of themselves more often than they think?
There are no vampires, and yet there’s no shortage of vampire novels. But that doesn’t mean Anne Rice didn’t put a little bit of herself into the characters that inhabit Interview with the Vampire. In Hard Twisted, I tell the story from the point of view of a young girl from Depression-era Oklahoma. In preparing to write in that voice, I read a lot of books from that time and place. I studied the vocabulary, vocal inflections, and local customs. But those are just costumes. The underlying narrative has to come from somewhere, and that place is me as the author.
What do you think about your writing being compared to Cormac McCarthy’s?
I’ve written this novel in a spare, matter-of-fact style, which is a style of Cormac McCarthy. It’s gruesomely descriptive and in that way makes it captivating. He’s one of my favorites so if people want to say that, I’ll take it.
Greaves will be at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango on Tuesday, Nov. 27 to promote the release of “Hard Twisted.” To learn more about the author and his novels visit his website, chuckgreaves.com