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Published on Friday, July 11, 2014

An Interview with

Bruce Holbert


The Western Online: Can you describe your story for our readers?

Bruce Holbert: One of the central elements of the west, even the modern west, is the physical distance between people and the kind of emotional responses that that distance draws from us. THE HOUR OF LEAD is at its center and is a book about people trying to navigate this distance and find one another. Some of the characters succeed; others fail, but place, the most central element in the western story, is always a factor.

TWO: How is your story one that would interest the readers of The Western Online?

BH: I think my books deal with a lot of the traditional themes of the western but carry them into more contemporary times. THE HOUR OF LEAD covers the time from 1918 to 1978 and my first novel, LONESOME ANIMALS, is set in the 1930's. The characters in both books are taking moral and mythical values the past offers them into a world where automobiles have replaced horses and dams stop rivers. How characters respond to these new situations while still embracing the old values of the west, I think provides and interesting, dramatic dynamic.

TWO: What motivates the protagonist in your story? What is he trying to prove?

BH: That is a good question. The protagonist in THE HOUR OF LEAD really doesn't have much to prove and his motivation is pretty primal, especially at the beginning of the book. He is devastated by the loss of his brother and father in a snowstorm and stunned by his own survival of the same storm. He is awkwardly trying to move forward without the help of a father into the worlds of work and love and, I suppose, the capacity to understand the portions of your existence you can control and those you cannot and what to do about each.


TWO: How would you define the term "Western" and what does it mean to you?

BH: I am very interested in what has been identified as the Western Myth or Code. Myths lay down an ethos that surrounds a person. I grew up enveloped by it. But the myth is also a set of instructions for a world that has changed dramatically since its birth.

TWO: What draws you to writing Westerns?

BH: I don't know that I write Westerns, per se. I love the American Western, grew up on them, but I didn't intend to write one. I suppose what happened is what happens whenever I sit down to write. My own experiences and values and responses to the world are so intertwined with my experience of the west and stories of the west that my work naturally bends that direction.

TWO: What writers have influenced you the most?

BH: Denis Johnson, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, my friend, Chris Offutt, Wallace Stegner, James Welch, A.B. Guthrie, Paul Bowles. Country music, the old stuff, Mary Robbins Gunfighter Ballads, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, George Jones. Films by Peckinpah, Loene, Ford, Hawkes.

TWO: What is your favorite Western, either novel or movie? Why?

BH: Maybe the movie, The Wild Bunch, by Sam Peckinpah because it, too deals with a group of characters who have lived past the rules of their mythology.

TWO: If you could go back in time and meet one famous person in the Old West, who would it be and why?

BH: I'd have to say, after some thought, I would choose not to take you up on the offer. People who are mythologized often turn out kind of puny when compared to their stories. Also, what interests me about the west and its history is more the human, heroic struggle we all experience, as opposed to the experience of one historic figure or another.

TWO:What are you plans for the future? Are you working on a sequel?

BH: So far I have painted myself into corners regarding sequels for my books. The characters in the stories have reached stopping points by the finish. Someday, though I may find a less central character and explore their stories. I am working now on a novel tentatively titled WHISKEY about a family of mixed blood (white and Native American) in the last portion of the twentieth century.

TWO:Is there anything else you'd like to add?

BH: Well, I'd like to thank you for your time and passion for this kind of story. It seems to me the western is always evolving and that is part of what keeps it vital and it can only do so with conduits people like you provide writers.



Bruce Holbert grew up on the Columbia River in the shadow of the Grand Coulee and his great-grandfather was an Indian scout and among the first settlers of the Grand Coulee. He currently teaches high risk "school resistant" students at Mt Spokane High School in Mead, Washington. Holbert is the author of the novels Lonesome Animals and The Hour of Lead and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in many publications, including The Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, Other Voices, The Antioch Review, The Spokesman Review, The West Wind Review, Cairn and RiverLit. For more information, visit his website.


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