What: Chair of the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University, and author of ten crime novels, including YELLOW MEDICINE, ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS, and WORM. He likes cheap red wine and tacos. He still scoops out the cat box every week. It’s humbling.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
I just read WORM and really dug it. It made me smile and it made me grit my teeth, but mostly it made me feel dirty—in a good way. What was the inspiration for this story? How close is the published novel to the one you set out to write?
The inspiration was my mother-in-law telling me about the oil boom in North Dakota, which I hadn’t heard too much about. At the time, I was working on a stalled idea about some blue-collar guys in Sioux Falls robbing the small, storefront “casinos” that are all over that city. But it wasn’t coming together, even though I liked the characters. So I went off to finish ONCE A WARRIOR instead, but I started researching the NoDak boom. I ended up watching hours and hours of videos on YouTube from guys who worked the fields, giving advice to people who might want to come to it—sort of a “get the real story” deal. And some filmed the job itself, especially the truck drivers. I read a bunch , too, but those videos hooked me. And I could imagine my band of casino robbers becoming oil workers instead. But at first, I considered *maybe* this was a way to continue the Billy Lafitte series…but that didn’t work either. And then, I had a heart attack at the halfway mark. After that, I felt that the book, while not especially personal, was personal to me because of what it took to get it done. I’m in great health now, got a stent and all that, but finishing that novel the summer after the attack was damned important. It turned out exactly how it should’ve, I think.