This post was written by Diane Slocum
Debut Novel Chronicles Mountain Family’s Violent Heritage
An exclusive Authorlink interview with Brian Panowich, Author of Bull Mountain
By Diane Slocum
The Burroughs family controls its own kingdom on Georgia’s Bull Mountain through unbridled violence and supported by moonshine, marijuana and meth. The brutal heritage is passed from father to son to grandsons, through horrendous lessons at an early age – until grandson Clayton defies his family by becoming the county sheriff. He ignores the problem of his family up on their mountain, but then a federal agent of questionable motives shows up with a plan.
|“My familial ties to this state, through both blood and marriage, is a tool I rely on in my writing.” |
AUTHORLINK: What did you come up with first for your story and how did you build it from there? Of all the places you’ve lived, what drew you to writing about Georgia?
PANOWICH: The first story I ever finished was called Theo & Fat Terry, and the entire story sprang from my deep-rooted hatred of title-pawn companies, and predatory lenders. I went on a tirade one afternoon at the fire station about how these companies thrive off the poor and weren’t any better than any other smiling pimp or drug-dealing scumbag. One of my partners on the engine suggested I write an opinion article for one of the local papers, but instead I wrote a short story about two friends driving across Georgia blowing up title-pawns with a trunk full of stolen C4. It was pretty thin on plot, and most of the story was regurgitated firehouse banter that I’d been filing away, but It was the first thing I ever finished from beginning to end, and I’m still pretty proud of it. Basing the story in my home state brought on quite a bit of feedback from the small amount of people I knew who read it, as well as a few folks that don’t know the region that well, so the idea of writing about my own backyard was something I always knew I’d want to do in the event I ever reached a wider audience. When the idea for Clayton Burroughs and his family heritage came to me, there was little question that Georgia would, not only be the setting, but integral to the story itself. I live here. I have an understanding and connection to this place deeper than anywhere else I’ve hung my hat. My familial ties to this state, through both blood and marriage, is a tool I rely on in my writing, and to be honest, Georgia isn’t known for being a popular fiction locale on par with other more well-known parts of the country. That’s something I hope to bring to the table throughout my career.
AUTHORLINK: How did you decide how to arrange your chapters since you are intertwining the stories of three generations?
PANOWICH: I knew when I initially came up with the concept of Bull Mountain, that it was going to be complex and complicated to write, but I never made any predetermined decisions to format it, or arrange it, in any certain way. I just sat down and started to write the story. As I progressed, if I came to a scene that I thought required the reader to know the history behind a character in order to be sympathetic to their actions, I would just back up and write that backstory with the next scene. There was never any master plan. When it was finished I was worried that the book wouldn’t make any sense to anyone but me, so as an experiment, I arranged the chapters in a more linear fashion and I hated it. I put it back the way I had it, and sent it in “as is” and luckily my agent loved it. I do credit my editor, Sara Minnich Blackburn, for coming in and streamlining the timeline. She was a great help to me in making the jumps back and forth in time a lot more accessible to readers.
|“I revised the story at least 17-18 times before I turned in what I thought was the best book I could write.”|
AUTHORLINK: How much editing did you go through from the first draft to the published story?
PANOWICH: I revised the story at least 17-18 times before I turned in what I thought was the best book I could write, then it was revised several times over once my agent and my editor got involved. They both showed me that the book I turned in was hardly the best book I could write, and I love them both for helping me become a better writer every day.
AUTHORLINK: This is your first published novel. What have you written before and how did that work help you produce a publishable novel?
PANOWICH: I’ve never been traditionally published before. In fact, I’d never even attempted to write a novel before this one. Nothing of any substance anyway, that ever got past the first few chapters. I had written several short stories that had appeared in various small press anthologies, and crime fiction websites, and I’d really taken to writing flash fiction. Writing those short pieces really helped teach me how to lean down my writing and make every word count. It was two of those stories that garnered the attention of the agent that prompted me to expand them into a long form novel. That novel became Bull Mountain.
|“I can clearly divide my life between before and after Nat Sobel [her agent] came into it. He literally changed my life with a phone call.”|
AUTHORLINK: How was your journey from finished to published novel? How did you find your agent and publisher?
PANOWICH: My agent found me, which I realize doesn’t happen very often. Like I mentioned above, I had written a set of short stories totaling less than two thousand words combined, and they were nominated for a small bragging rights contest by an independent crime fiction website. I didn’t win the award, but it turns out that powerful, influential literary agents read those websites, and one day I got a call. I can clearly divide my life between before and after Nat Sobel [her agent] came into it. He literally changed my life with a phone call. Not too long after Nat took me on, and started shopping the book to publishers, Sara Minnich Blackburn at Putnam asked to talk to me on the phone. Immediately, I knew she was a perfect fit, because she understood the world-building aspect of the book, and strongly connected to the female characters that I hoped would make my book stand out among others in this vein of crime fiction. I felt like I succeeded at that when several female editors made offers on the novel at auction, but I knew before hearing any of them, that Putnam was where I wanted to be, and Sara was who I wanted to work with.
|“. . . having a man like Nat Sobel, who discovered and guided the careers of brilliant scribes like James Ellroy, or Wiley Cash, take the time to call me, validated something in me I was never quite sure of my entire life—that I had talent. “|
AUTHORLINK: How did you feel when your book was accepted, and then sold?
PANOWICH: I’ve received all kinds of daunting accolades, and have been ushered around the country on a major book tour, but nothing will top the day I received the call from Nat telling me how much he wanted to represent me, and my book. That day was the best day of the entire journey. Believe it or not, it was even better than getting the call that the book sold, or seeing it for the first time in print, or holding the final hard cover in my hands. All those landmarks were amazing experiences, and I don’t mean to downplay any of them, but having a man like Nat Sobel, who discovered and guided the careers of brilliant scribes like James Ellroy, or Wiley Cash, take the time to call me, validated something in me I was never quite sure of my entire life—that I had talent. It was a moment I will never forget.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
PANOWICH: I’m polishing the third draft of Like Lions, the follow up to Bull Mountain. It deals with the fallout of the events in that book as seen through the eyes of a female protagonist. She is also rapidly becoming one of my favorite characters ever to write. It’s a sequel of sorts, but focuses more on a separate set of lead characters and deals more with the theme of how Southern woman aren’t accurately portrayed in this type of action/crime/fiction. They are superior in almost every way to us men, and that’s something that I feel goes unnoticed by the rest of the world, and I hope this book is a direct rebuttal to those uninspired, lazy archetypes.
|About the Author:|
As a child in a military family, Brian Panowich lived throughout Europe. He kept the habit of being on the move as a touring musician for 12 years. Now Georgia is his home where he works as a firefighter.
About Regular Contributor:
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.
This post was written by Diane Slocum