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

Page 2

HCN In each of your books, the landscape, setting and culture that the protagonists were born into influence their lives. Did you think about how Nevada shaped the plot of your story as you were writing?

Rogers I just did a word search: "Nevada" appears in The Flamer 13 times and "Reno" appears 18 times. I look back now at sentences like, "Nevada's full of things that need blowing up," and it's clear that Oby just so happens to have found a great place to be the kind of boy he is. Nevada has huge tracts of land that have often been considered disposable (e.g. the Nevada Test Site, or the quarry where Oby works) merely because they're barren. And if Oby didn't live in a place like that, it would have been necessary for him to end up there. He needs to be somewhat solitary, and he needs room to do his thing, to blow stuff up -- and so Nevada is perfect for him. And I see now that's no accident.

Watkins One of my professors at the University of Nevada, Reno, once said, "We are who we are because of where we are." I've carried that around with me for a long time. I can't even begin to understand who a character is until I know where they are. Early on, I decided each story would be set in Nevada, and I whittled the stories to more specificity from there. So it became not just Nevada, but a shack on the edge of the Black Rock Playa, or Lake Street in Reno, a tiny ranch in Verdi, a hipster love triangle takes a day trip to Virginia City.

Hassman I thought about desperation as I was writing Girlchild and that feeling is synonymous with Nevada to me. I'm potentially offending some folks, I realize. I can only promise that Nevada and Reno have earned that reputation in my experience. We're working on reconciliation. What I'm seeing now is that with desperation comes opportunity. Anything can happen. That might be the gift of Nevada, potential as extreme sport.

HCN In Girlchild and in several stories of Battleborn, the protagonist's mother dies. Is the early loss of a parent an important theme in your work?

Hassman Do you ever wonder if people are always and only ever writing about their first heartbreak? Or if they must do so until they've healed it somehow (assuming this is possible)? This is a little hypothesis I've been cooking up. My own mother died when I was young. It was my first heartbreak. Maybe that's why Rory's mom had to die too. Oh, fiction, you sneaky bitch. I hope that this theme will become less important to me, though I doubt I could write about a family with two long-married living parents since this is completely out of my experience or that of anyone I know. Ever. In the universe.

Watkins I love that: We write our first heartbreak over and over again. My father died early (I was six; my first memory is of the day he died), and my mother died late, as in three months before I started Battleborn. The loss of a parent is not an important theme in my work; it is an important fact in my life. This is my obsession; these are my ghosts. I don't know how long that will be so, but it is so.

HCN Characters in each of your books adapt and become locals in different communities. Why did such an initiation into belonging to a community appeal to each of you?

Hassman Since Rory is so very young when she arrives in Nevada, it is her first home in many ways. She absorbs the code, like children do, and then becomes something of a teacher of it. This brings to mind the idea of code switching (when a person is a member of two or more distinct communities and uses a different communication style with each). We all do this to some degree and Rory gets an early understanding of when and where  and what codes apply and how to switch them. The pedagogical aspect of her approach to this code (the tests and anthropologist-like reports in Girlchild, for example) is crucial to her survival; it stops her from internalizing the BS.

Rogers The Flamer is a coming-of-age story, and the aspect of that transition that interested me was how a kid learns what he is into –– what makes him tick, what he can't help but be. And, as part of that, who he wants to be with. Oby is so spellbound by the quarry and the peculiar cliques of people who work there -- so different than his friends at school or his family or anyone in his frame of reference -- that he dives headlong into trying to impress them. He becomes desperate to earn, if not their respect, than at least their consent to help blow the living hell out of their mountain. Who wouldn't want to join a club that has a weekly barbeque culminating in an earth-rattling explosion?

Watkins I'm always trying to destabilize my characters. I figure if I can knock them off-kilter, they might do something interesting. One way to do that is to throw them into a new place, a version of "hero goes on a journey." This is probably most intense for Joshua and Errol in "The Diggings": They're young, they've never left their family farm in Ohio, their father dies the same year gold is discovered in California, and they light out Westward. Joshua has a really hard time adjusting to the goldfields. He's afraid of the mountains, he misses his mother, and he has to watch his brother descend into madness that he perhaps caused. There's some element of this destabilization in every story: A young woman gets pregnant by the cokehead who broke her heart, a prospecting hermit finds a teenage girl left for dead in the desert. I work toward destabilization because it makes something happen. Volatile people make interesting characters.

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