Our region is rich with authors. Four of them visited with me about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their literary world.
• H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger is author of “Friday Night Lights” and numerous magazine articles. He resides in Pacific County, Washington, on Willapa Bay.
• Muriel Jensen, of Astoria, is the author of 93 romance novels. Five of them are set in a loosely disguised Astoria.
• Karl Marlantes’ most recent book is “Deep River.” He also wrote “Matterhorn,” a Vietnam War novel, based on his experience as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer. Marlantes grew up in Seaside and lives in Woodinville, Washington.
• Robert Michael Pyle, of Grays River, writes across a wide range of naturalist interests, from butterflies to Bigfoot. He first caught local readers’ eyes with “Wintergreen.” He also writes poetry.
Q: During this time of self-isolation and national crisis, authors often develop ideas for new works. Have you been exploring new territory?
Jensen: I think a good writer, a good character-builder, is made by empathy. At this particular time, the news is full of drama and sadness and generosity and heroism. Every writer in the world must be collecting that for stories. This period now has everything you need.
Marlantes: I’m a somewhat introverted writer. My wife practices flute four hours a day. Our life, except for the grocery, hasn’t changed much. I’ve taken advantage of it to get another novel out. I’m on page 102 of my next novel. It is set in Finland in 1947. The principal characters are the wives of the U.S. and Soviet military attaches. The U.S. attaché is Arne Koski, son of Matti and Kyllikki Koski of ‘Deep River’ fame.
Bissinger: Honestly, because I’m an author and I write books, in a sense it hasn’t changed my life at all. We dwell in isolation and obscurity. I’m doing some research and writing. But there are places I need to go for research and God knows when they will be open.
Pyle: I wrote a poem titled ‘Going viral: A plague in three acts.’ That is the only thing that I’ve felt compelled to write.
I would say the biggest thing for me has been, like many people, one thinks, at this time, of mortality. I’m 72. That has put me in the realm of thinking of autobiography. I’m not so much interested in recounting the minutia of my life — as if anyone would be interested. But I am interested in looking at where I came from — the influences, the genetic eye-openings I’ve had — some sort of a big wrapup. Not a swan song. I have a lot of projects in mind.
I have a new book called ‘Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays.’ It’s coming out in the fall. What I am working on is another novel — my first one took 40 years to write. This time I have to write it more quickly.
Q: What is your daily routine?
Marlantes: I get up and have my cup of coffee, and I read a little of the Times Literary Supplement. Then I go out and exercise. I’ve been exercising by splitting wood. I do about an hour of that. I have enough wood for a lifetime. Once a week I will read the Economist.
Then I go to work, writing. My first meal is at 11:30 a.m. I might watch some YouTube. Lately that’s been ‘Crash Course: Literature.’ Then I go back to work, and I peter out about 3:30 in the afternoon. I used to go to church on Sundays, but that stopped. So now it’s, ‘What day is it?’
Jensen: I feel guilt because I am so little affected by what’s happening. I don’t have a car, so I don’t have a horror of getting anywhere. My kitchen calendar is usually full of things. It has nothing on it. I miss lunch and tea with friends. We keep in touch by phone.
The dog and I — especially since it’s been so beautiful early — walk at 6 in the morning. I don’t know what it is about beautiful weather, but it makes you think about the past and the future. I think about the great things that have happened to me — finding (my husband) Ron in Los Angeles where everything moves so quickly.
Bissinger: I try to have a routine. My whole biological clock has changed. I stay up very late, until 1 a.m., which I never did. Lisa is asleep and the dogs are asleep. Now I start writing closer to 9:30 to 10. I try to get in three to four hours of writing. I try to write something every day.
Pyle: My daily routine is a shambles. If I’m on a deadline — and I’ve had many — I can be extremely disciplined. My daily routine begins with breakfast in bed, (seeing) the view of the valley and a book. I get my thoughts together and decide what I’m going to do with the day.
I try to get in walking in the valley. The routine really vacillates because of the many pressing things that come in. Every book that I write brings its new friends and requests to help out with this or that. Yesterday, a listing came through on the endangered species list for a butterfly we’ve been working on.
The writing sometimes gets somewhat shuffled to the side. Often it gets shunted to the afternoon or evening.
Q: Karl, when you returned from Vietnam, did you find you were radioactive — like people didn’t want to know about where you had been and what you had done?
Marlantes: The first time someone thanked me was in Canada. He was a Canadian. ‘Thank you for doing that.’ I almost started crying. That was the late ‘90s. I was in Vietnam 1968, 1969. Sometimes you wonder if your entire life has been lived as a warning to others. What we went through (in Vietnam) made this country grow up a little.
We just had a reunion last summer of the Battle for Hill 484. We lost 26 guys in that battle. We came together in North Carolina, where one of the guys had made it big. We had 70 show up.
Q: Buzz, what is the setting of your next book?
Bissinger: It’s set on Guadalcanal, Christmas Eve 1944. It was the staging area for two Marine regiments headed for Okinawa. They’d been there for a couple months. They were looking for ways to improve morale. At the mess hall there would be these arguments over which of the two regiments would be the best football team. There were All-Americans and team captains from coast to coast. So the commanding officer said: ‘We’ll have a football game.’
They called it the Mosquito Bowl. It was the last time these guys were allowed to be kids. The score was 0-0. In the ensuing battle, 15 were killed and over 20 were wounded. I’ve been working on it for over two years. I haven’t written a book like this in about 20 years.
Q: Muriel, are you active in the romance novel field?
Jensen: It’s been so long that I’ve sold anything. I don’t know if there’s anything for me. But I write anyway. It’s probably the training from being rejected all of those years before I did sell. The climate today is different. Between editors and me, there’s an age difference of 30 to 40 years in how we see things. That might not matter in other topics, but it does in romance.
The last year that I wrote, I can remember editors saying to me: ‘No woman wears an apron when she cooks. No woman gets up at 5 a.m. to make her husband’s breakfast.’ They don’t think that way anymore, because they were raised in a different time.
Q: Bob, there is a new movie in which you and your late wife are depicted — based on your Bigfoot book. None of us have seen it, but you have. How do you like it?
Pyle: I like it a lot. I’m really pleased. Of course, one worries about the translation of one’s work. I tried to go into it with a more positive attitude. I liked Tom Putnam, the moviemaker. He let me read the script as it took shape, and I made comments.
I think Debra Messing’s portrayal of my late wife, Thea, is extraordinary. I took David Cross, who plays me, into the Columbia Gorge to show him how to use the butterfly net.
In the movie, I’ve been changed and some people will laugh at how I am portrayed. They wanted room in the story to have me grow.
The pandemic has caused uncertainty about timing of the movie’s release. The title is ‘Dark Divide,’ which comes from the subtitle of my book.