John Gubbins’ latest novel, “Raven’s Fire,” is a ghost story that involves a 30-year-old secret that tears apart Joe’s and Carol’s marriage and sends Joe into his beloved woods to recuperate, only to discover that they’re filled with evil spirits.
The book recently received “starred” review status from the American Library Association’s Booklist publication, a rare honor bestowed upon only a handful of novels per year.
“Raven’s Fire” is available in book stores and from online retailers.
Gubbins recently took some time to field a few questions in the Fiction Fest hot seat, for which we are eternally grateful.
How did you come up with the story for “Raven’s Fire”?
The story of “Raven’s Fire” began in the adventure stories I read in Field & Stream, Sports Afield, etc. They were stories with titles like “I was mauled by a Grizzly Bear” or “I was hunted by a cougar.” As an adolescent these stories fired my imagination and were part of the fun of being out camping and hiking. Then there was the Black River forest fire which nearly took our house several years ago. The speed and devastation of that wildfire overwhelmed me. So too, the Anishinaabe tribal stories which have been translated by Schoolcraft and are part of the lore of forest spirits in the Upper Peninsula where I live. Then of course there is what commentators are calling the “new normal” which seems to be about most people living in this country in straitened circumstances. So I put all this together and made two rural people the heroes. While writing “Raven’s Fire,” I made sure there was no let up in the story and have since heard from people who have read the book saying that they could not put it down, reading it in a day.
What is your writing process like?
I write everyday usually between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. with breaks in between. My study looks out on the woods and so my companions for most of the day are rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, chickadees, jays and ravens. The silence is wonderful. I, for one, cannot write in noisy surroundings. Usually I have in mind some event I am trying to describe either from dreams or experiences. I do not write unless I have something in mind.
I have completed a manuscript about the most difficult year of my life. And I am now working on an historical fiction manuscript set in 1915 Savannah and the Catskills.
What author(s) had the biggest influence on your writing style?
David Guterson’s book “East of the Mountains” changed the direction of my writing. He is the Seattle author who wrote “Snow Falling on Cedars”–another great book. I must give credit also to John LeCarre and his great spy stories for schooling me in technical issues and the use of language and dialogue.
Based on your last two books, you seem to enjoy fishing. Do you get to do much of it in real life?
Fishing keeps me in the out of doors. It is the key to appreciating the wonderful complexity of nature and the moments when nature reveals its magnificence. I tell people spend 30 minutes in the out of doors and you will be surprised. I believe surprise is good for the soul.
Which actors would play the main characters in “Raven’s Fire: The Movie”?
I have not thought much about the actors to play the characters. My choices are almost cliches. For Caol, I believe Laura Linney would be good. For Joe most of the actors I picture are too old (Robert Redford) or too young (Matt Damon, so many to choose from). Talbot and his wife could be played by anyone good at looking monied.
What do you like least about the publishing process?
What I like least about the publishing process is the selling side. It must be done but it takes so much psychic energy it exhausts me and interferes with my concentration and takes away time from my writing. Luckily the Cedar Fort staff publicizing and selling books are a joy to work with.
What’s the most joy writing has brought to you?
It comes every day when I sit down in front of a blank computer screen and know that any word I put down is up to me. I can take all the time I need to make whatever I put down beautiful and engaging. If I do not, I have no one to blame but myself.
When writing a novel, do you base your characters on people you know?
The characters in my stories are drawn from life. None are exact but are composites of people I know. Luckily I have lived with and worked with great people starting with my mother and father. It is important to know many different generations of people. When watching contemporaries, I saw their strengths and weaknesses and I saw what happened to them over their lifetime. It helps when constructing a plot to know how character flaws and strengths direct a person in one direction or another throughout their life.
What advice would you like to offer aspiring novelists?
Very simply, I would urge aspiring writers to read as much poetry and as many books (novels, biographies, history, memoirs, etc.) as they can fit into their time. There is no short cut to acquiring superior language skills. It begins in grade school grammar and runs through the rest of life. Just keep your eyes open and ask what it all means. When you begin to get answers to that question, you are ready to write.