I’m thrilled to bring you this interview from H.D. Pelton. Please enjoy September’s Author Spotlight!
OZARK MAVEN AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
1. For those readers who are unfamiliar with you, please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Saline County, AR. My ancestors came here in 1817, the second European family to come here and stay. I graduated from Benton High School in 1965 and married my wife Paula in 1967. Within months I received my Draft Notice. We enlisted in the US Navy and moved around some. Just a couple of kids trying to figure it all out. We lived in Memphis, TN and Virginia Beach, VA, where as a member of VA-85 air squadron, I worked on, among other things, ejection seats on the A-6 Intruder aircraft. I did a tour to Vietnam aboard the carrier USS Constellation. I made ports of call all around the Pacific. When I was discharged, we came back home where we’ve lived ever since. I worked for Missouri Pacific R/R as a welder out on the tracks. MoPac was merged with Union Pacific R/R, so that’s who I retired from. Then I decided to get a college education. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2000 with a double major in English and Professional / Technical Writing. After that, I started attending writing conferences and looking for ways to get published.
2. What kinds of writing do you enjoy? I enjoy writing fiction. It’s interesting. You’re telling a story that you’ve invented. The characters never existed, but they could have. You place them in a time and a place and you watch what they do and you tell people about it. When you do in in such a way that people can recognize and respond to the characters, as if they were real, you’re doing it right. I love it.
3. What do you enjoy most about the writing process? Learning where the character is going to take me. Dusty Richards once told me to listen to my characters. The writer knows kinda where the story starts, and pretty much where it’s going to end when you start writing. But listen to your characters. Sometimes they will tell you, ‘Hey, I wouldn’t say that,’ or ‘I wouldn’t do that.’ You have to be true to who your characters are, otherwise, they’ll sit down and pout and shut up on you. Then where would you be.
4. When did you start writing?
I tried to start in High School. But reading books and making book reports wasn’t the same as writing your own story. I only remember one teacher who let me ‘write’ a story, and she bled it to death with red ink. I’m sure one student turning in something that needed editing was a lot of work compared to grading a class of book reports for commas. I found it easier and better for my grades to just follow the crowd.
5. To what or whom do you attribute your love of reading and writing stories? Probably to my maternal Grandmother. I spent an awful lot of my growing up with her. She lived half-a-mile down a sandy road from her nearest neighbor. When you got to her house, you turned around. There wasn’t any place else to go. I spent a lot of time alone. There weren’t any other kids closer than that half-a-mile. She encouraged me to read little books, to make projects of putting stories together in a home-made binder. It was made with pages of heavy paper, between two thin boards, and then Grandpa would drill holes through the whole shebang and tie it together with heavy twine. Kinda like a three-ring binder, but country made. Then I’d write or paste pictures inside on the heavy paper, making my own books. But when I really fell in love with reading was in my teens. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs. His Tarzan books and his Warlords of Mars series set my imagination on fire.
6. How have your past experiences impacted your writing?
Probably the places I’ve been are an influence on my writing. When I’m writing I can ‘see’ where the scene is taking place. It’s like watching a movie in my mind. But my characters themselves are an amalgamation of people I’ve met and situations I’ve been in.
7. What are some jobs that you have held?
I’ve worked a little construction; loaded hay in the fields and stored it in the barn; been a boiler operator for the State; worked as an Aide on a Ward in a mental institute; sanded fiberglass in a boat manufacture company; maintained fluorescent light fixtures for a company in Nashville, TN (one of the clients was Ryman Auditorium); I’ve worked on ejection seats on the Intruder aircraft for the US Navy; been a trackman and a welder for two rail roads; and probably a dozen other menial jobs.
8. Does your past employment experience ever make its way into your books?
Not that I’ve noticed. I’m sure it has had an impact, but not intentionally. At least not yet.
9. What inspires you? Everything.
10. What made you decide to write about the subjects or themes of your books?
In the current series, I was up in the Ozarks with some friends at their camp. During the day, we’d ride around in the hills on 4-wheelers and check out things. Creeks, caves, old trails, waterfalls, old house places, etc. At night we’d sit and I’d listen to stories they told of old timers who used to live in the area. They knew I liked to write stories, and one of them said, “Harold, you ought to write something about up here.” And that’s how the O’Brien series started. Patrick O’ Brien comes to the Ozarks of 1830’s and begins to build a life. The joys and problems he finds are folded into those hills and streams. Anyone who knows the area can recognize places mentioned in the book.
11. Have you met any interesting people while researching your book?
Absolutely. I’m always learning things from wonderful people. Individuals who I might normally overlook. Maybe someone I see every day. But outwardly there doesn’t seem to be anything ‘special’ about them. Then you discover they lived in a certain area; or are kin to certain people; or maybe they might have an insight into what I’m writing about. So, I start talking to them and this encyclopedia of information and facts comes pouring out. Facts about an area; stories of people who are no longer with us; the ways people used to have to live. I’m just amazed at what wonderful knowledge we overlook every day. And these people are all around us, going about their simple lives, being ignored.
Case in point, there is this old house I am involved with preserving. Oldest brick structure, still standing, in the entire County. I know the names of some of its previous inhabitants. One lady in particular, I’ll call her Mrs. S. She was born in the house, and in her old age, died in the house. Nothing particularly engaging about that. No real color in that information. Then I have a local businessman do some work on the house. He completes his work and goes about his business. A few days later his wife (office manager) calls me. “I thought you might like to know I used to go in that house with my grandmother. She took care of Mrs. S.” She went on to tell me how the room was furnished, about the hallway, and the room across the hallway being filled with furniture covered in sheets. About Mrs. S. being bedridden, how the room was full of birdcages with birds, because Mrs. S. loved to hear them singing. And about how Mrs. S. always had individually wrapped Kraft, Butterscotch squares in a bowl beside her bed. Mrs. S. loved them and, every once in a while, she would offer one to the little girl. What a picture. It makes her come alive in my mind. She was no longer a name. She became a real person to me.
12. What is the most difficult part of writing?
Making myself sit down and do it. Once I get started, I love it. I love the research, the character building, the discovery of it. I find it hard to stop sometimes. It’s just the initial act of sitting down and starting.
13. Who are some of your favorite authors and why do you enjoy their work? This is not a complete list, but you did say some. The first that comes to mind is from my childhood. Edgar Rice Burroughs was probably the first to really grab me. Followed quickly by Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and Rudyard Kipling. The adventures they talked about, the places they revealed to you. As I got older, I found I liked things by Herman Melville and James Fenimore Cooper. Still adventure stories. Later in life I found Henry David Thoreau and Ernest Hemingway and found the depth of their writing spoke to me. In more recent years I enjoy reading Lee Child, C. J. Box, Jory Sherman and Dusty Richards. I just love the way they tell a story. They can put you there, you can see it, smell it and nearly touch it. That’s what I want to do for people.
14. What writing advice did you find most useful when you were honing your craft?
To start writing. The first thing you put down, say for instance the first chapter of your book, may be something you later throw out entirely. But go ahead and write it down. If you put it off, you will always be thinking you need to get started. But, once you start, even when you’re not writing, your mind is thinking about it, reworking it, planning it. First, you have to start. Then your mind can write your story 24 hours a day.
15. Do you have any new work just released or coming out soon? If so, would you please tell us a little about it? The second in the O’Brien series is currently at the editors. I do have a contract for that work. It starts the morning after the first book ends. The focus of this story is the daughter, Josephine O’Brien. Her complications center around the son of her father’s antagonist.
16. Can you tell us a little about your current project?
I have two projects I’m working on now. The third in the O’Brien series. Which has, as the main protagonist, the oldest living son of Patrick O’Brien carrying on the story. Then I have a more modern piece about problems that start at the US southern border. That protagonist is a FBI Agent.
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