Please welcome Blake Crouch in an interview that gives an inside look at his new thriller, Abandon.
In his third thriller, Crouch takes readers on an undeniably thrilling adventure through the generations of America's search for gold, creating a timeless tale that is filled with such interesting characters and settings, that we just had to know more.
NMR: Congratulations on your new book Blake! Abandon seems like itís destined for success, tell us a bit about it.
BC: Thanks so much, Stephanie. Abandon is about a fictional mining town of the same name set not too far from where I live in the mountains of southwest Colorado. On Christmas Day in 1893, every inhabitant of this dying town vanishes. My book traces the last 24 hours leading up to Abandonís disappearance in 1893, along with the doomed journey of a present-day group that hikes into the Colorado wilderness to investigate the mass disappearance.
NMR: You switch between the late 1800s and now, and itís very obvious you did some very in depth research on the gold miners at the time. So, were there any surprises in what you learned about that era, the Wild West, and the prospectors who inhabited it?
BC: Tons of interesting tidbits, some of which I was able to work into the story. For instance, dental hygiene wasnít a top priority, and often women would cover their mouths when they spoke to hide their rotten teeth. Pabst Blue Ribbon was available. Folks carpeted their cabins in denim, and lined their walls with newspaper to help remind them of the outside world and its happenings (it could be very depressing and isolating to spend a winter at high altitude in a tiny mining town). The middle finger was in use as early as the 1880s Ė I came across a photo of a baseball team (the mining towns often had them) and one of the players was discreetly flipping off the camera. I could go on and on, but Iíll stop with one more. Lonely miners would carve portraits of beautiful women (lovers, wives theyíd left behind) on the walls of boardinghouses and even into the bark of aspen trees.
NMR: You recreated that time and place so realistically and with such great detail that while reading those chapters I honestly felt the cold, heard the buildings creak, the horses snorting, smelled the chaos. How did you manage to provide such great detail?
BC: Wow, thank you. Lots of reading and research and speaking with local historians. Iím blessed to live in Durango, Colorado which is in the foothills of the San Juans. Probably the most effective research device emerged from doing something I already love to doóclimbing mountains, backpacking, and visiting the ruins of these old mining towns. As important to me as getting the historical detail right was giving my readers whoíve never spent time in the mountains a sense of what it feels like to be on a thirteen-thousand foot ridge in a snowstorm. The sound of thunder when it drops right over you. The smell of a stream flowing through a spruce forest. What itís like to walk in an old aspen grove.
NMR: I know reading this was a total blast; was writing it as much fun?
BC: Best writing experience Iíve ever had from the standpoint of writing about a place that I love. But far and away the most demanding and exhausting, in terms of the research involved, working with a large cast of characters who all feature prominently in the story, and the serpentine nature of the story itself. The book changed dramatically from first draft to eighth.
NMR: I appreciate how you created similar characters from one generation to the next, giving them the same ultimate issues to work out. But, just for fun, what do you think someone from that era would have the biggest problem with if transported to now, and visa versa?
BC: That you picked up on this is very gratifying, because it was massively important to me to have characters separated in time by 113 years but still dealing with the same human struggles. I think my 1893 crowd would be thunderstruck by how connected we all are in the information age. With Facebook, Twitter, email, etc., we can be in touch with huge numbers of people at any given time and from anywhere. 19th Century interactions were obviously far more limited (and sadly for us, more meaningful, I suspect). Were you and I transported back to Abandon, the hardships that come from spending a winter at 11,000 feet would crush us. Can you imagine sitting in an outhouse at two in the morning when itís ten below zero and your ass is in danger of freezing to a wooden seat?
NMR: Also appreciated was your insightful portrayal of women then and now; especially the voice you gave your female cast from the 1800s. Fairy Godmother, Mom, or great wife; who is responsible for your above normal grasp of the opposite sex?
BC: I am so going to share this comment with my wife. Weíll see how hard she laughs. I donít know what to say to this except that perhaps I actually find it easier and more fulfilling to write female characters because women are more open and honest emotionally. Itís easier for me to hit a vein with my female characters, to get a direct line to their core, what theyíre about.
NMR: Some questions about your writing now. Your imagination is admittedly ďout there,Ē with your twists and turns and unexpected directions being delightfully thrilling. Do you know from the beginning where youíll end up, or does your destination change as you go?
BC: With Abandon, because of the scope of the story, I felt I needed an outline, so I wrote a 40-something page guide to the book and did pretty extensive character studies. Of course the outline changed pretty drastically, but it at least gave me some parameters as I was jumping into this daunting story. I knew the big thing going in Ė the mystery of what happened to the town Ė and that did not change. However, there were a ton of surprises along the way, for instance the story of what happened to Lana, the mute piano player, and the fate of Joss.
NMR: You published your first novel in 2004 at a remarkably young age, and followed it up in 2005. A few years have since passed; was there a lot of pressure in those years to write something, and if so, how did you manage to escape that and to write when you wanted and how you wanted?
BC: The idea for a big book set in a remote mining town had been with me for a long time, at least since 2003 when I first moved to Colorado. I was really blocked up creatively during my tour for Locked Doors, and one day while driving through southern Arizona, I got to thinking about where I was headed as a writer. In one of those rare moments of clarity, I realized I needed to stop what I was working on and write the book that I was subconsciously obsessed with, which turned into Abandon. In terms of writing how I want, when I want, etc., Iíll just say that it was a difficult choice from a professional standpoint. Writers are often pressured to basically write the same book over and over. I wanted to stretch and to grow. There were costs involved in choosing this path, but it really has all worked out, and in hindsight, was absolutely the right thing to do.
NMR: A lot of authors seem to be secret poets; are you one of them?
BC: I used to be an awful poet in high school. I donít write poetry anymore, and thatís something everyone can be happy about.
NMR: Youíre very creative and wildly imaginative, so itís only natural to ask how many things you inadvertently blew up as a child?
BC: Ha! Iím still blowing things up. Last summer I launched a homemade vinegar-baking soda rocket with my 3 year-old son that went at least 100 feet in the air. One of the highlights of my year.
NMR: And if I may be utterly annoying one more time, what do you have planned next? (Itís okay if itís merely going grocery shopping.)
BC: My next novel is already in the can. Iím not sure about the release date yet. Itís called Snowbound. It deals with human trafficking, a missing mother/wife, the Alaskan mob, and an elite Mexican ex-paratrooper group who are muscle for the drug cartels (theyíre real and they are so freaking terrifying I donít even call them by name in the book).
Blake Crouch is the author of DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, and ABANDON, which was published by Minotaur Books in 2009. His short fiction has appeared in such venues as Ellery Queen and the recent Uncage Me and Thriller 2 anthologies. He lives in Durango, Colorado. His website is www.blakecrouch.com.