Church of the Graveyard Saints, the sixth novel from Cortez writer Chuck Greaves, is literary fiction with a thread of modern day romance and a mystery-thriller finish.
It’s also an up-close look at a unique corner of Colorado–one that Chuck clearly knows well.
And, finally, it’s also a compelling tale of the ongoing clash between big energy and environmentalists in the Four Corners region.
Chuck was kind enough to stop by the blog–that is, answer a few questions by email (below).
The book launches from Torrey House Press next month. My full review is online at the New York Journal of Books.
Publisher’s Weekly has already chimed in, declaring Church of the Graveyard Saints “a lyrical, vivid tour of the West.”
Chuck writes both mystery fiction (as Chuck Greaves) and literary fiction (as C. Joseph Greaves).
He has been a finalist for most of the major awards in crime fiction including the Shamus, Macavity, Lefty, and Audie, as well as the New Mexico-Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado Book Awards. Chuck’s previous novels include Hard Twisted and Tom & Lucky (both from Bloomsbury), the latter a Wall Street Journal “Best Books of 2015” selection and finalist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.
Special alert to the Four Corners Region: Church of the Graveyard Saints will be in bookstores on September 17, 2019 and will launch the inaugural “Four Corners/One Book” regional community-wide reading program later that month. Watch for community-wide events in Cortez, Moab, Montrose, Dolores, Mancos, and Ignacio. Chuck will also be at Maria’s Bookshop in downtown Durango for a book launch event on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m.
Question: What was the moment of inspiration for Church of the Graveyard Saints?
Chuck Greaves: There were several. The first was a generalized desire to write about the Four Corners area, where I’ve been living for seven years now. The second was an experience I’d had as a young man returning from college and seeing my old hometown through different eyes. The third was an article I read, I believe in The New Yorker, about a psychological phenomenon called Attachment Theory which posits a close correlation between early-life maternal interaction and the stability of later-life relationships. Lastly was my concern for the environment generally, and for the Southwest’s environment in particular. The four somehow melded, by that mysterious process of auctorial alchemy, into a story of a young environmentalist returning to her small hometown in the Four Corners to confront the father who’d raised her, the boyfriend with whom she’d parted badly, and the oil & gas interests threatening her family’s ranching heritage.
Question: Do you think, and I have a hunch I’m leading the witness, that the general public realizes the impact—both the visual impact and the less obvious environmental impacts—from the pressures of energy development? Do you think attitudes around Cortez are changing? Is there growing awareness that the Four Corners has been a “national energy sacrifice zone” since the Nixon administration?
Chuck Greaves: Objection sustained. I think there’s a rather large disconnect in this country between those for whom environmental conservation is an issue of paramount importance and those for whom economic prosperity – or in many cases, economic survival – trumps whatever less immediate negatives they’re willing to acknowledge. It’s not just Cortez, of course, or the Four Corners, or the American Southwest – those just happen to be where this particular story is set. I think the arc of history is bending toward a greater and greater concern for the environment, and that concern manifests itself differently in different locales. Here the salient issues include public lands cattle grazing, methane emissions, oil & gas extraction, and drought. All are issues I touch upon in Church of the Graveyard Saints.
Question: Was there anyone in particular who inspired Addie Decker—someone torn between home and away? Have you encountered locals who believe all the good opportunities are outside the Four Corners region?
Chuck Greaves: One thing that surprises me about the Four Corners is the relative dearth of young families moving here to take advantage of the gorgeous landscapes, the recreational opportunities, the affordable housing, the low cost of living, etc. I’ve often remarked that I’d have loved to have grown up in a town like Cortez with a brand-new high school, a great Rec Center, endless ball fields, basketball and tennis and volleyball courts, an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool, and hiking and biking trails everywhere. And yet the population seems to be aging, and I suppose that’s attributable to the limited career opportunities outside of farming, ranching, and (for now at least) the extractive industries. So the answer is no, Addie is not modeled after any particular person, but rather embodies my idea of how a smart, ambitious young woman would respond to growing up in a town like Cortez, and how she might view the town differently after being away for a while.
Question: Church of the Graveyard Saints touches on (digs into, really) so many issues with the connection between people and the land and also between people and their government, both local and national. From the Bundy standoff to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, what’s it going to take to get back to a rational dialogue about managing land in the west?
Chuck Greaves: Call me Pollyanna, but I think it’s happening. Farmers and ranchers can be – and in many cases are – among the very best stewards of the land on which their livelihoods depend, and will adopt best practices as and when conditions require. Of course there are always extremists and general bad apples on both sides of the fence, and that’s another theme explored in the book.
Question: What was it like to write so specifically about a canyon and area you know well?
Chuck Greaves: Well, it required a heck of a lot less research than, for example, writing about Depression-era New York, which I did in Tom & Lucky, my last novel.
Question: Your thoughts on writing a variety of kinds of novels? You have written literary fiction, historical fiction, and the whole Jack MacTaggart mystery series. How do you decide what to write next and what are the pros and cons (if any) of variety?
Chuck Greaves: I prefer writing in the first person – it comes more naturally, and I think I’m better at it. So the MacTaggart novels are relatively easy for me. The limitation, of course, is telling an entire story through a single POV character, which doesn’t always work for my more ambitious novels. In Church of the Graveyard Saints, for example, I have four POV characters – Addie, Bradley, Logan, and Colt – each very different in their ages, educations, and worldviews. Would I be happy just writing, say, mystery fiction? I doubt it, which is why I’ve tried to mix it up. Next up, for example, is MacTaggart No. 4, which I’m around 250 pages into and loving where it’s headed. After that . . . who can say?
Question: Tell us about “Four Corners/One Book” and how it came about.
Chuck Greaves: I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to public libraries, starting with the one in Levittown, NY, where I grew up. As a newly-minted lawyer in Pasadena, CA, I founded the Pasadena Public Library Foundation in 1982, and served for 20 years on its board of directors, including five as its president. During that time we raised over $4M for the Pasadena public library system. I also served on the selection committee for Pasadena’s inaugural “One City, One Story” community-wide reading program in 2002, an idea I very much wanted to import to Cortez. Kathy Berg, a librarian in Cortez, loved her galley copy of Church of the Graveyard Saints and proposed using it to launch a city-wide program. From there the concept grew like Topsy, with five other cities and public libraries – Dolores, Mancos, Montrose, Moab, and Ignacio – signing on. And so “Four Corners/One Book” – a vehicle for building community through the shared experience of story – was born. If I don’t screw it up, my hope is to see the program continue for many years to come.
Chuck Greaves’ website.
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