Three Nevada fiction writers make their debut

  • Patrick O’Leary
  • Tupelo Hassman, author of Girlchild.

    Bradford Earle
  • Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn.

    Lily Glass
  • Ben Rogers, author of The Flamer.

    David Torch
 

This year, three accomplished and innovative fiction debuts by young Nevada-raised writers will hit the bookstores, including two novels –– Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild and Ben Rogers' The Flamer (reviewed in HCN on Aug. 6) –– and a short story collection, Claire Vaye Watkins' Battleborn. Girlchild tells the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, who at the age of 4 moves with her single mother to the Calle, a trailer-park neighborhood near Reno. A resourceful, determined child, Rory finds an unlikely guide in the Girl Scout Handbook as she tries to navigate her way out of the webs of poverty and abuse. In The Flamer, Oby Brooks, a Reno boy with a deep devotion to explosions, accidentally sets his house on fire. His parents and science teacher decide to channel his pyromania into a useful pursuit, so they line up a life-changing internship for him at a local quarry. Battleborn explores the history of Nevada and California through intense, structurally inventive and varied stories that touch on Charles Manson, the Gold Rush, prostitution and the challenges of growing up near Las Vegas. HCN contributor Jenny Shank recently interviewed the three authors via email about how Nevada inspired their fiction and the themes of their work.

High Country News You all grew up in Nevada, then later moved away. When –– and how –– did you realize Nevada's value as a setting for fiction?

Claire Vaye Watkins It never occurred to me to write about Nevada until I left. I hadn't thought of myself as a Westerner or a desert person or a rural person until I moved to Ohio. I was homesick, basically, and my homesickness made the place my muse.

Ben Rogers I wrote The Flamer after I moved back to Reno. I realized the value of Nevada as a fictional setting after reading some of the masterful stuff written by Robert Laxalt and Walter van Tilburg Clark, much of which is set in Reno or nearby. Growing up, the "important" books I read seemed to be set in important-seeming places. That's where the publishers were and the writers were and so those are the stories that got put out there for impressionable kids like me to read and think, well, I didn't grow up in a big place so I guess I don't have anything worth writing about. When I read some more, including beautiful stories written about my hometown -- sections of City of Trembling Leaves by van Tilburg Clark are nearly my biography -- that made me think Reno could actually be an interesting and rich setting for a book.

Tupelo Hassman Reno is all of Nevada to me; Las Vegas is something and somewhere else, a not-city, more like an amusement park. I struggle to conceptualize Vegas as a city just as I do with Anaheim, say. Company towns. Reno was a company town and now it's a blown rose (and truly a mixed metaphor), it's its own again, returned to seed. And then there is all the beautiful country in between.

I still struggle in seeing the value of it, I admit, literary or otherwise. Nevada is captor to people I love and that is hard to forgive (also not fair or logical, I know). Only when I was introduced to Willy Vlautin (Nevada-raised author of the novels The Motel Life, Northline and Lean on Pete) did I understand the potential for Reno to be a place of literary return, at least, rather than escape.

HCN Did any of you feel more like a Westerner once you left the West?

Hassman I was in a sorry state of culture shock for almost my entire four years in New York. I learned to wear shoes for the first time (versus the flip-flops I'd grown accustomed to after a decade in Los Angeles). I had no private place to scream or bawl my head off. I'd previously just thought of that place as my car and taken it for granted. I had to learn smaller, tidier, quieter ways to freak out. I never owned enough black. I never felt sleek enough. Westerners: ungainly, colorful creatures with nearly bare feet who lose their shit while driving. That's me.

Watkins I felt very self-conscious about my manners in the Midwest -- I am always helping myself to the contents of other people's refrigerators. And I've noticed that what is okay for a woman is in part determined by region. I was accustomed to a sort of pioneer spirit of feminism that valued a woman doing things for herself, working, opening her own doors, paying her own way. I'm always a little aghast when I go to the South or the Midwest and I hear women praised for being demure, polite, seen not heard, and so on. When I was growing up in Nevada, those were never espoused as virtues.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....