Going Home with Gregory Hill

July 29, 2012
Written by

East of Denver cover
East of Denver
by Gregory Hill

Buy this Book
at Amazon.com

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview
with Gregory Hill, Author of East of Denver

By Diane Slocum

August, 2012

In Gregory Hill’s award-winning debut novel, Shakespeare Williams returns to his family farm to bury a dead cat. He finds his father’s mental state and the farm have deteriorated alarmingly so he stays on and tries to rebuild. He hooks up with former schoolmates whose lives have stagnated and together they bungle their way toward a get-rich and get-revenge plan.

“I wanted to write an honest book about Alzheimer’s disease, but I didn’t want it to be terribly depressing. ”
—HILL

AUTHORLINK: Did you come from a small town like your character?

HILL: I come from a farm on the Great Plains of eastern Colorado. We grew wheat and corn and got lots of sunburns. In writing East of Denver, I wanted to capture the understated (and underappreciated) beauty of that region. It’s boring and wild at the same time. When you pass through the flatlands of Eastern Colorado at 80 miles an hour on I-70, you see the boring. When you get out of the car and pay attention, you see the wild. That contrast—which I would define as action versus inaction—is my favorite aspect of the book.

AUTHORLINK: Where did you get the idea for this story and the quirky characters?

HILL: I wanted to write an honest book about Alzheimer’s disease, but I didn’t want it to be terribly depressing. How do you make Alzheimer’s not-depressing? Bring in sex, drugs, and a bank robbery, of course. In order to make that seem remotely plausible, I felt compelled to bring in as many kooky characters as possible.

AUTHORLINK: How much of the story did you know when you started writing?

HILL: When I started East of Denver, I knew only the first and last sentences. That’s how I approach everything I write. The first sentence is the bow and the last sentence is the target. If I aim correctly, it’s just a matter hoping the arrow travels at least 50,000 words on its way to the bulls-eye. Of course, since I never write an outline, the path of the arrow inevitably bears more resemblance to a squiggly line than it does beautiful arc. But it always finds the target and that’s all that I care about.

AUTHORLINK: Did you run into any places where you were stuck?

HILL: Only once do I recall suffering from actual writer’s block. The story, which isn’t exactly full of adventure, had come to a complete stop. The characters were all looking at one another, waiting for something to happen. We needed excitement, pronto. So I arbitrarily killed off one of the main characters. That’s all it took. The book got a new focus and, as a bonus, I was able to enjoy the perverse pleasure of erasing an imaginary human from the face of an imaginary world.

“Winning the Amazon award was bizarre. Like most writers, I had gotten a boat-load of rejections (for East of Denver as well as a previous novel).”
—HILL

AUTHORLINK: How did you feel when you won the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award? And when you first saw your book in print?

HILL: Winning the Amazon award was bizarre. Like most writers, I had gotten a boat-load of rejections (for East of Denver as well as a previous novel). It was-—and remains-—a challenge to reconcile 180 thanks-but-you’re-book’s-too-borings with the single, giant YES of the Amazon award. I was happy, but I was worried that they had made a mistake in choosing my book. When I first held the hardcover edition, I felt even more worried. Consider how much effort goes into making a book. There’s editing, publicity, artwork, layout, paper-making, binding, shipping, and a gazillion other things done by a gazillion other people. What if I let all these people down? Fortunately, people seem to like the book and I’m finally starting to relax.

AUTHORLINK: What did you go through in your writing life to get to your first novel?

HILL: For three years, I wrote reviews of imaginary rock and roll bands for a local paper. It was a blast and a wonderful exercise in creating characters in a short format. When the paper went bankrupt, I decided to write a novel. I thought it was brilliant. Nobody else did. I spent a year trying to get it published and then realized that, rather than sending out a hundred more queries, my time would be better spent by writing a new and better novel. When I finished it, I thought it was horrible. Apparently, I’m a terrible judge of my own work.

AUTHORLINK: What surprised, frustrated or impressed you the most about the publishing process?

HILL: I was surprised at how difficult it is to convey the whole of a novel in the space of a teeny little paragraph in a query letter. I was frustrated by agents and publishers who would raise my hopes by requesting the manuscript and then manage to say nothing, ever, to indicate that they had received it, liked it, hated it, or were still, in fact, alive. I would assume the person who requested the book had suffered a tragic accident and do my best to mourn them. Impressed? Once the book got the Amazon award and was assigned to Dutton, I was astonished at how accommodating everyone was. Nobody demanded major changes. Everyone has been incredibly accessible. After being an unsuccessful novelist for half a dozen years and a small-time musician for twice that long, I had become so accustomed to dismissive treatment that I was—and remain—absolutely shocked at how easy this has all been.

“As long as you are able to see your flaws and use that knowledge to improve, everything you write will be better than the last.”
—HILL

AUTHORLINK: What advice would you give writers trying to break into publishing?

HILL: It’s easy: win a contest. Bwahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t feel qualified to answer that question because I got here through such an unlikely process. The closest thing I can give to advice is this: Don’t worry about that publishing stuff, at least not while you’re writing. Just write a book and then write another book and keep writing until your hands fall off. As long as you are able to see your flaws and use that knowledge to improve, everything you write will be better than the last. If at all possible, find some friends who are willing to read your stuff and provide honest feedback. Listen to that feedback and integrate it into your re-writes.

About Gregory Hill:

Hill graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in English Lit and is a book-buyer in Denver. He loves rock and roll and currently plays guitar with The Babysitters. His next novel is almost finished. Also set east of Denver, it involves the American Basketball Association, a feral poodle, two brothers, and possibly pre-historic mega-fauna.

Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.

 

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This post was written by Diane Slocum