Keep the Wind in Your Face was published by Endeavor Books of Casper, Wyoming, in October 1998. Although it was the first complete novel I wrote, it was not the first to appear in print. Not only did it take me a long time to assail and finish a full-length manuscript, but I also struggled finding a publisher for it.
After I finished my dissertation on the western novel in 1980 and had had a few short stories published, I thought it was time to write a novel, but uncertainties plagued me. For one thing, even though I had studied plenty of novels literary and traditional, classic and contemporary, I didn’t know how to write one. I thought I needed a big, inspiring idea which I could then follow as I did on a smaller scale when I wrote short stories. I have no doubt that such an approach, what I call writing by feel, works for other writers, but it didn’t for me—not for writing a novel, anyway. I thought I needed a big idea, and it didn’t come to me. I took to thinking of it as a vision. I needed a vision, and if it didn’t come to me, I needed to go out and find it. One time I had gone on an excursion through the foothills and had gotten an idea for a short story that turned out pretty well, but now when I went to the mountains, nothing happened. Then I thought I needed a bigger expedition, but I didn’t know how to outfit myself to go hunting for a vision. I also didn’t think I had the time, which was equivalent to saying I really didn’t know how to go about it.
I made a false start on a contemporary novel, getting about twenty pages into it and then stalling for lack of a sense of how to carry it all the way through. Time passed. I got a job in Wyoming while my wife stayed in California, and then I went through the ennui and desperation of divorce. I kept writing short stories, along with nonfiction articles, poems, reviews, and literary articles. I tried to keep up several lines of endeavor, hoping that one of them would develop into a good avenue of opportunity. I dug out the twenty-page false start from time to time and put it away. Then I tried another longer story, again getting an idea and following it until I was done. It ran to forty pages, and although I thought it fulfilled its form all right, I now had something else I couldn’t do much with. It was too long to get published in the regular outlets for short fiction, and it didn’t have enough in it for me to try to build it into a novel.
There were two things I didn’t want to be for the rest of my life. One was the person who always said he’d like to write a novel some day but never got it together to do it. The other was the person who said, “I wrote a novel once. A very bad novel.” That person does not go on to write another. I knew I needed to write a novel and keep it from being a very bad one.
Time was passing. I was doing all right at short stories, getting them published in popular and literary magazines and sometimes getting a prize or a few dollars for them. I was in my seventh year at my career job at Eastern Wyoming College, and I decided I needed to do something for professional rejuvenation. I took a semester without pay so I could go to the University of Wyoming and study Spanish, which would give me a little variety in my teaching load. Just before embarking on my study plan, I got married again, this time to a young woman who was finishing her degree at UW, so the two of us set up housekeeping in a basement apartment in the cold winter months. By now a novel idea was forming in my mind, and I could steal some time to work on it. In a cold little alcove off from the main part of the basement apartment, I began writing a contemporary novel about big game hunting.
One day when I was at my office at the University, where I was teaching part-time in the English Department, I received a phone call from the Wyoming Council on the Arts and learned that I had won a $2000 fellowship for a set of four short stories I had submitted to the annual competition. This was a great break for me, especially since I was making a pittance at the two courses I was teaching, and my move to Laramie was costing me a great deal. More than the money, however, was the encouragement to keep working on my novel. An agent wrote to me on the basis of my having won the award, and she expressed an interest in seeing the manuscript when it was ready.
I worked on the manuscript off and on for the rest of the year, and I had a complete typed draft of it by my fortieth birthday. That was December 14, 1988. I went on to revise the novel, and then I began to send it out. First I sent it to the agent I had corresponded with after winning the fellowship. She wrote back and said it wasn’t for her, partly because of her “relative disinterest in hunting” and partly because the story just didn’t rouse her interest. Next I send the first fifty pages to an agent who had written me on the basis of having seen a short story of mine in a magazine, and he sent me a crabby letter of rejection. After more revision, I sent it to an agent whose ad I saw in a magazine, and she enjoyed the story and its content (her father had been a hunter), but she didn’t think she could sell it.
I went on to give the manuscript four substantial revisions, each time after I had had one or more sets of constructive comments from people who had read the whole thing. I sensed that the novel did not come out of an ideal preliminary conception of narrative design, but I felt that, given its form, I was making it as good as it could be.
By the time I had four traditional westerns out and had gotten a bit of name recognition, at least in this region, I was able to interest Endeavor Books in the novel. We put our heads together for a marketing plan, and we also collaborated on a cover. I gave Dan and Bruce, the owners, an idea of what details I would like to see, and they commissioned a local artist to do a painting. I found it gratifying that the publishers would be willing to take on the book at their expense and to invest in original artwork for the cover. Meanwhile I touched up the text a final time, and this novel that was dear to my heart became a reality.
When the book came out, I received a variety of responses. Women told me that even though they had never been hunting and did not plan to, they felt as if the novel had taken them there and they had enjoyed it. Hunters and cowboys liked the novel for its content, and I must admit that one of my intentions was to give readers the vicarious experience of going out on horseback and having successful hunts. One woman, the mother of a friend of mine, relayed the comment that she thought there was too much blood and gore in the hunting scenes. A magazine editor declined to review the book because of some content she would not speak of.
I was left to wonder whether it was because of game violations committed by a couple of the less-admirable characters or because of the affair that goes on between the hunting guide and a female client. Maybe the editor missed the thematic parallel, or maybe there was something else unspeakable. Two other reviewers, both ranch women, found the content worthy of praise. In the end I had to admit that the novel might have limited appeal, but I was glad that some readers liked it.
Keep the Wind in Your Face is available at Amazon.