A micro-interview with Don Waters by KR Associate Jill Hanley.
Don Waters is the author of the story collection Desert Gothic. His story “Estray” was featured in the Winter 2012 issue of KR.
Can you identify the seed of inspiration of your story, “Estray”? What was the hardest part about writing it?
For years I had a vague desire to write about wild horses in the West, but I never knew how to approach the subject. I’m a native of Nevada, the state with the largest mustang population, and wild horses are a contentious issue—ranchers complain about overpopulation and overgrazing while activists rail against the way the animals are treated during and after prescribed roundups. So, well, I already knew there was some heat there, but I needed to find a way in.
Personally, I’m awed whenever I’m around these beautiful creatures. In the summer, in Reno, wild horses emerge from the dry eastern mountains and wander around neighborhoods, usually hunting for fresh grass. I’ve had so many encounters with horses that it’s impossible to count, but each time leaves me slightly spellbound. There’s something magnificent, and terrifying, and emancipating, about an animal that hasn’t been manipulated by human will.
Eventually, when I found out about prison inmates in Nevada “rehabilitating” mustang fresh from the range, I knew I’d found my entrance into their world. That horses and men were both wards of the state struck me as a story worth telling.
The hardest part about writing it was, well—writing it, of course. “Estray” took me three years to finish. Isn’t sitting down alone in a room with the notion of writing a story always the most difficult part?
What internal or external factors have the biggest influence on your creative process?
Probably one of the most important things, for me, is what happens away from my writing desk. I’m drawn to the outdoors, and before I can justify confining myself to a room and sitting in front of a computer, I need to get out and do something physical, whether it’s hiking, swimming, surfing, whatever. So it’s safe to say that dirt and water influence me the most.
What’s one book, contemporary or otherwise, that you wish you had written?
Wow, what a hard question to answer. I don’t know if I can pick just one book, and why would I want to choose? There are too many wonderful books to name, and besides, my response is bound to change given the day and my mood.
What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?
I’ve learned that every story I attempt to write will succeed or fail in a new way every single time. Writing isn’t a science. Dedication and craft will only get one so far. The other elements are mysterious, but I’m growing convinced that one of those elements is luck.
When we publish, whether in print or online, we hope we’re making a sustained art—something that endures and continues to be significant. What role will sustained art have in a future that’s sure to be full of iPads/Pods/Phones and Kindles, hyper fast computers, and a reality where we can always be online, all of the time?
I don’t know if the introduction of new technology will have much of an impact on the art of storytelling. The means of transmission may change, but the need for stories will remain. Narrative, after all, is part of the human condition. Stories are how we situate ourselves in relation to others, whether singularly or collectively. A fictional story, when successful, manages to bend our perception of the world and ourselves and, hopefully, allows in a moment of truth. As for striving to make “sustained art,” well, I don’t know if that’s the ultimate aim. I like to think of writing as participating in tradition, as expressing one’s humanity, and I also think it’s a pretty damn fine way to fall in love with folks you might not normally meet.