In Sometimes The Wolf, Urban Waite returns to Bobby Drake, one of the characters from his debut novel, The Terror of Living. In Waite’s debut, Drake carried the weight of his father’s prison sentence on his shoulder for much of the novel. Urban looks at their relationship once the father, who was the former sheriff where Bobby is now a deputy, gets out of prison. His release sparks a series of violent events that soon entangle Bobby’s grandfather as well. Mr. Waite was kind enough to talk to us about the book, his approach to writing, and some of his favorite authors.
MysteryPeople: When writing The Terror of Living did you know you were going to return to Bobby Drake and confront the relationship he has with his father?
Urban Waite:The quick answer here is no. The long answer is I never really know what I’m going to do. I don’t believe in outlines or planning ahead. I have a general idea I’m thinking of when I start out on a project but as far as knowing where I’m going… well, it wouldn’t be any fun if I did. For me the adventure of writing novels has always been taking an opening and expanding on it, seeing where and what my characters can get into.
MP: The idea of family runs all throughout Sometimes the Wolf. What did you want to explore about the subject?
UW: I don’t believe in the idea of ‘write what you know’. It applies here, but only in a sort of abstract way. I add things into my novels that go through my head, or impressions I take from the world around me. The way a pine forest smells, or the sounds up high of wind moving through the trees—those types of impressions. But when it comes down to the heart of the story I don’t want something I’m familiar with. I want something completely foreign that I can explore through my writing. Novels that transport me out of my sphere of understanding have always been the ones that interest me the most. And so when it comes down to writing about family in Sometimes the Wolf, I took concepts that were familiar to me, like loyalty, love, and legacy. And then I used those concepts to look at a family very unlike my own—a family with a history of violence, criminal in many ways. A family that I did not understand at the time, and only came to understand by writing about them in Sometimes the Wolf.
MP: It appears that the older the Drake men, the more accepting they are of people and circumstances. Do you think that is more a reflection of their age or experience?
UW: I think age and experience go hand in hand. In many ways you cannot have one without the other. You’re certainly right to say that the older the Drake man the more accepting they are of the world around them. They have to be. I think when you’re young there is a definite sense that life is unlimited, you can do anything, you can be anything. And at thirty-two years old that is one of the major hang-ups Bobby Drake feels. He lives in a state of regret for all the things he could have done with his life had he not been born into such a criminal family. While on the opposite end, Bobby’s grandfather, Morgan, has lived eighty some years, and he looks back on life now with just as many regrets as his grandson. But instead of living in the past, he chooses to look at the present. And I think that is one of the most important lessons he can pass onto his grandson.
MP: You show a side of the Pacific Northwest we don’t always see. What did you want to convey about the area to people who have never been there?
UW:I’m not sure I wanted to convey anything. I just see it as one might see their own skin. It’s just there, a part of you. I grew up here and many of my weekends were spent hiking in the Cascade Mountain forests, or over in Eastern Washington in the prairie/grasslands. I think maybe that separation of lush forest and arid grassland is something a lot of people don’t understand about this part of the country. It’s one of the most diverse places on the planet and certainly in the US.
MP: Do you have any influences as a writer?
UW:Lots. I started out with Hemingway as many do. But I really think he had only four good books. The rest just fell flat for me. But you know a lot of that is on me. Sometimes you pick up a book and if you’re just not in the right mood, or you’re hungry, or it’s sunny outside, etc—you just don’t fall into it the way that you should. When I was in my early twenties I loved The Bone People by Keri Hulme. It’s a beautiful book with a lot of imagination paired with a healthy dose of reality. I remember reading a collection of stories by Hannah Tinti that were so wonderfully diverse and inventive. Each story breaking the mold the last had set forth. I love me some Graham Greene as well. He’s right there with Hemingway, a lot of his stuff is very good, but others just don’t hit the same way. I also read a lot of the southern writers. I’d say guys like Tom Franklin, Daniel Woodrell, Larry Brown, and William Gay have had the biggest influence on me in recent years. One of my favorite memories will always be sitting out on a porch in Tennessee with Tom Franklin and William Gay, listening to Gay tell me the story behind the story of The Paperhanger, while watching Gay sip from a tall-boy of beer. His passing a few years ago was a real loss to world.
MP: You’re a writer with a lot to say and explore. What makes crime fiction the right canvas for you to explore it on?
UW: This goes back to some of the earlier questions. What makes writing enjoyable for me is working with characters and situations I’m not familiar with.
In life I try to keep an open mind. I don’t judge people based on their history or their appearance. My belief is that we’re all cut from the same cloth. No matter who you are. We all share that human experience. And so when it comes to writing I’m trying to push characters into the unknown. I identify with them because I see them—good or evil—as simply human. What would I do in this situation? How would I survive? What would I say? Who would I go to for help?
Adding the criminal element strains the human experience all that much more. And for me that is a very good thing.
Copies of Sometimes the Wolf are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.