Fall 2013 Indies Introduce Debut Author Q&A With Charlie Quimby

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Charlie Quimby is the author of Monument Road. A Colorado native, he has been a writer for the majority of his professional life, mostly for Fortune 100 companies. Quimby divides his time between Minnesota and Colorado.

How did your family life and growing up in Colorado help shape Monument Road?

Charlie Quimby: My parents both grew up in less than ideal circumstances. My mother lost her father when she was 12 and her mother had to support the family by taking in laundry and doing bookkeeping for a local garage. My father’s family moved ahead of the bill collectors for a while, and when my dad went to high school, he boarded in town during the week and went home to work weekends on the ranch where my grandfather was a foreman.

My dad eventually became a bank president who made sure his kids knew who the janitor was, and after my mother raised six kids she became one of Colorado’s first woman mayors. My dad somehow never trusted his own success; he died by suicide. And my mother was still coming into her full greatness when she was cut down by a brain tumor. Monument Road isn’t about them, but it is about the fragility of life and the un-fancy people you find on the fringes of the West, whose character prevails no matter what’s thrown at them.

Somehow, all this feeling was preserved in the western Colorado landscape and was just waiting for me to get enough time and distance to write about it in more universal terms.

What do you hope readers take away from your debut title?

C.Q.: I hope I’ve put enough in there that any reader can find something that speaks directly to them, to where they are in their lives. But if there’s one thing for everyone, it’s that the West and its communities are the laboratories for how humanity is going to survive. It was settled last because it was the hardest place, and it will be where we first encounter the limits of our domination of the earth — water, weather, air, fire, conflict over uses, madness. Western communities aren’t just about guns, rugged individualism, and extracting resources. They are places where people of different means, political blocs, religious sects, and relationships to the land are figuring out how to share a place they all love.

Were books an important part of your childhood? If so, what book had the greatest impact on you, as a child?

C.Q.: In the summer, I’d read two books a day from the public library and my parents made sure our house was filled with books. We had the classics, and they subscribed to all kinds of children’s book programs, like the “We Were There” novels, which portrayed historical events from the perspective of young people. As a child, I was less interested in characters and more in storytelling that made me feel part of the action. I never fastened on one favorite book, but Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild came close. (And Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet would’ve been, had it been written in the ’50s.) They showed me the world as an unforgiving place where honor was as important as outdoor survival skills.

Did a particular teacher foster your interest in writing?

C.Q.: The interest was always there, and I was continuously writing on my own, including a rip-off of Jack London that won a Cub Scout short story contest. But one person in particular, Samuel Baseler, a very respected high school English teacher, encouraged me to become a writer. It had never occurred to me until then that I could actually be a writer, instead of just being a smartass dilettante who wrote.

Are you working on anything now?

C.Q.:  I’m about halfway through a novel that’s also set in the Grand Valley, a sort of sequel that gives bigger lives to some secondary characters in Monument Road. It deals with homelessness in the West and how the community seeks to end it — for better or worse. As charitable and commercial forces apply their respective cures, two mysteries arise and demand resolution. One of them involves the fate of a character left hanging in Monument Road. It’s about the meaning of home, the extent of our obligations to others, and the struggle to maintain our self-image as good people.

When you travel, do you stop at bookstores? Any particular indies make a lasting impression?

C.Q.:  All the time, and I make sure to buy something, even though my unread stack is already unmanageable. On recent trips, I made pilgrimages to Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee and The King’s English in Salt Lake City, and loved both, but that’s kind of expected. The Reader’s Loft in suburban Green Bay was a surprise. It’s across from a cornfield in a newish, upscale shopping complex, with an interior that makes it look like the store’s been there for decades. When I walked in the door and saw their loving display of current titles, it was like they knew I was coming, who I read, and what I didn’t yet have.  

I’m sorry never to have made it to Quimby’s in Chicago because it’s a graphic novel Mecca. Part of the fun of being a new author is now the visits are not just pleasure — it’s my business to get out and see the great indie stores who’ve supported writers like me.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

C.Q.: The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy, who’s in my Indies Introduce cohort. I also have The Healing by Jonathan Odell in progress. Duffy’s is set in Nova Scotia and France during WWI and Odell’s deals with plantation slave life in Mississippi. I have to watch what I read when I’m deep in my own writing. Good historical novels like these inspire me to be ambitious but don’t influence me stylistically or story-wise. Then there’s the aforementioned stack from my bookstore visits. At the top, for the moment, is Jess Walter’s We Live in Water.

If you were a bookseller for a day, what book would you want to put in every customer’s hand? (Besides your own, of course!)

C.Q.: If I were a good bookseller, I wouldn’t put the same book in everyone’s hand! But let’s say I wanted to get my customers to nibble on something substantial without scaring them off. The first book on my lips these days is J.M. Ledgard’s novel, Submergence. It’s beautiful, timely, deep, and accessible in just 200 pages. My backup is Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, less than 100. Heck, buy them both.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three titles would you want to have with you?

C.Q.: I’m an optimist, so I’d assume I’d be rescued and choose accordingly. Years ago, according to my bookmark, I bogged down in Infinite Jest at page 746 and just couldn’t pick it up again. Stranded, I’d feel free to restart at the beginning and, if necessary, could just keep reading it in a loop, like the film in the novel. I’ve always meant to read the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, but being marooned probably offers my only hope. If allowed a guitar, I’d bring The Definitive Bob Dylan Songbook. If not, I’d want something reflective and poetic I could sip from, say: Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace and War, or Anne Sexton’s The Complete Poems.

Monument Road by Charlie Quimby (Torrey House Press, Paperback, 9781937226251) Publication date: November 12, 2013

Learn more about Charlie Quimby at greatdivide.typepad.com/charlie_quimby/

ABA member stores are invited to use this, or any in our series of Q&As with Indies Introduce Debut Authors, in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions (and we’d love to hear if you do).