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All Roads Lead Me Back to You
Q & A
Have you ever lived or worked on a ranch? What were some of the challenges of conveying the rhythms and lingo of ranch work to your readers?
I’ve never done ranch work, but it’s all around us here in the Palouse Country. The community college in Walla Walla has a good agriculture department, a famous farriery program, and a hot rodeo team, cowboys and cowgirls all over the place. Until a few years ago, the roping steers for the Fair used to be trailed right through the middle of town. We townies may not have irons in the fire, but we know what’s going on.
That’s a good question about approximating the local working speech. Wranglers and farriers and such folks are not notably chatty. Also, a fair number of them are well-travelled and/or well-read, and some are bilingual as well. So expression is pretty diverse; it’s not like a dialect you can learn. And you can’t pack a notebook and a Bic around with you; people would wonder. You just have to keep your ears open. The hard part for me is distinguishing terms that readers will know or can guess at from words that will leave them stumped. For example, what do you guess this means: “That waddy’s pretty skookum with the julián”?
All Roads Lead Me Back to You provides information on a number of fascinating topics, including ranch work, immigration law, property law, and Mexican and Scottish culture. How did you go about researching these topics for your novel?
To tell the truth, I haven’t done much formal research, if you mean the library and the Internet. I’m my department’s informal immigration advisor, so that stuff is ready to hand. And when we’ve lived in Scotland, I’ve usually found some kind of volunteer work to do to get into the community. (Scots are mostly welcoming and communicative; it’s only the English who think they’re dour.) As far as Mexico is concerned, two of my colleagues are real biculturals, absolutely fluent in both directions, and thoughtful about their situation. They’ve taken a lot of trouble to sort me out about certain matters cultural and linguistic, and my Mexican students do their best for me when they aren’t falling down laughing. And of course, as Philip Weston is wont to observe, property law is a mystery to everybody.
The dialogue between Alice Andison and Domingo Roque is truly unique, a blend of her comical Spanish and his tentative English. Which moment of miscommunication do you find especially funny or poignant?
The really awkward point was when he asked her whether she wanted another child. Wow. That could have gone real bad. And I still think it’s funny when Alice yells, “Sonofaduck!!”
The love story between Alice and Domingo progresses slowly but blooms quickly. How did you handle the pacing of their romance?
The first couple of drafts of it were more even and gradual, but it felt all wrong for the characters. They are adults after all, and pretty self-disciplined, self-controlled. And not looking for it. So I tried it out as more abrupt. That was a little better. But I thought, “Well, there must have been some clues, for Pete’s sake.” So I went back and tried to see where there might be signs that the reader would see, but the two principals wouldn’t.
Immigration policy is a huge topic in the book. Was it difficult to portray the different sides of immigration law impartially? Which character’s opinions come closest to your own views on immigration?
There’s really only one aspect of the problem addressed in this story: the unfairness of the current laws to people who come here needing and wanting to work. To develop other sides of the question, such as the danger of creating a class of virtual slaves who can’t appeal to our laws for redress of crimes against them, or the patent fact that illegal immigrants who work for less than minimum wage undermine the advances in pay and working conditions made by organized labor, would have made the novel a polemic. That said, I suppose Janet Weston comes closest to my view.
Friends, neighbors, and work associates form a diverse extended family around Standfast. Which of these minor characters is your personal favorite?
I’m pretty fond of Nick Weston. He’s an irritating little toot, but awfully sweet.
Gender roles play a big part in your novel. Do you think that living on a ranch makes men’s and women’s roles more or less flexible? Why?
More. Because the work has to get done by somebody, that’s the bottom line. If cows don’t get fed in winter, they die, so they don’t care who’s cutting the baling twine.
Alice Andison’s nickname, Roan, refers to a roan mule, and Domingo’s father used to call him an ox. How did you choose these two animals to describe your main characters?
The name Roan actually refers to Alice’s freckles, but the mule business comes from William Faulkner’s oft-quoted line about a mule being willing to work for a man for ten years for the privilege of kicking him once. She’s such a model of unglamorous endurance—and such an easy keeper!—that she seems to have earned her kicking privileges. Also she’s childless, barren like a mule. About Domingo, “ox” is ironic: contrariwise, he’s thoroughly masculine, quick, clever, and good to look at.
Jerry Graeme is an unusual antagonist; Alice describes him as “her only enemy,” but she has mixed feelings after his death. Who inspired this sinister character? Do you have any sympathy for him, or did you cast him as a purely evil character?
I sweated over that guy. He’s nastier than I meant him to be; I think that’s why I got him out of the way so quickly after the attack. He was making me sick. The worst of it is, I know how scared and sad, how absolutely wretched such a person would feel practically all the time. People don’t botch themselves; they get botched, and then they have to live like that. That’s what Alice sees, once the threat is gone.
All Roads Lead Me Back to You is your first novel. What can we look forward to in your next one?
Some of the same characters. I’m getting interested in JoNelle Jussum. And of course there’s a lot more to be said about Socorro Roque. And my dad wants me to write something about the Army. Now, how’s that going to work?