Q & A #47 – Erik Storey, “Nothing Short of Dying”

Nothing Short of DyingErik Storey’s first novel, Nothing Short of Dying, is being published today with the support of sterling blurbs from the likes of Lee Child, C.J. Box, William Kent Krueger, and Nelson DeMille.

Advance reviews confirmed the praise.

Booklist called it “immensely enjoyable.” Kirkus called it “adrenaline-fueled.” And so on.

It’s hard to imagine a better blast of PR wind in your sails than that–and they’re all correct. Nothing Short of Dying puts one Clyde Barr in motion in a big, sweeping, action-packed way. I have a hunch that Barr soon will be as familiar to readers as, say Joe Pickett or Jack Reacher.

A full review follows this Q & A (below) with Colorado’s own Erik Storey.

One scheduling note–Erik will be at the Tattered Cover on Tuesday, Aug. 30 (2526 E. Colfax Ave.) for a launch event in Denver. Stop by if you can.

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Question:  Where did the whole idea for Nothing Short of Dying come from? Did it start with Clyde Barr and his character? Or the landscape? What sparked the story?

Erik Storey: It started with the landscape. I was driving down a two-track road, twenty miles from the nearest paved road, listening to an audio book, and wondered why we didn’t have any thrillers written about the rugged area I was passing through. Then, I started to think of a character who would be tough enough and different enough to handle the area.

Question: Clyde has “seen evil on three continents” before getting into the situation that plays out across Western Colorado in Nothing Short of Dying. How did you develop his backstory? Have you known or met guys like Clyde? Or his pal Zeke?

Erik Storey: : I had a vague idea for his wandering background, and it is kept vague for the most part because its purpose is mostly to set up Clyde as a roaming hunter who uses his rifle for good. A backwoods Knight Errant, if you will. The backstory of Clyde’s childhood, however, came into being while I worked with my editor to make the story more realistic. We needed a concrete, realistic story of his upbringing, and the one I came up with was the only one that I thought worked.

I’ve never met anyone in real life like Clyde, but read about plenty like him in the old adventure books of Haggard, London, and Doyle.

Zeke is actually an amalgamation of quite a few people whom I’ve met and worked with who scared the shit out of me.

Question: The story winds from Grand Junction to Rifle and Leadville—it’s almost a tour of Western Colorado. How did you pick your locations? And I’m leading the witness here but how much fun is it to write about Western Colorado today?

Erik Storey: I chose the locations based on the places I knew well. I live in Grand Junction, have worked in Rifle, Meeker, and Steamboat, and went to college in Leadville. I wrote most of the first draft in the winter, and most of it while caring for my infant daughter, so travelling back to these areas for research was pretty much out of the question. Also, I believe if you write from memory you write the details that stand out most in your mind, and this helps it stand out in the readers mind.

As you probably know, it’s a whole lot of fun writing about the best parts of the state. Researching them is pretty enjoyable as well.

Question: Did you plot this out before you started writing? No spoilers here, but did you know what would happen to Allie? And how long have you been working on Nothing Short of Dying?

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Erik Storey

Erik Storey: I flew by the seat of my pants while writing it, and had no idea what would happen to any of the characters. In the first draft, I didn’t even know who the characters were, other than Clyde. It’s fun to write that way, but you have to be willing to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite. It took me four years and many, many drafts to get to this point.

Question: You’ve worked so many jobs in the great outdoors. How did those influence your approach to deciding what to write? Given all the things you’ve done, when did you start writing?

Erik Storey: Working outside definitely helped me choose a setting for the novel. I haven’t worked more than a couple months indoors (not counting writing), and wouldn’t be able to write a book set in an office, for instance, or a bank. So I had to have Clyde outside as much as possible. It gave me an excuse to write about the beautiful scenery in our state.

As far as writing goes, I’ve only been dabbling since college. A few stories here, an essay there. It wasn’t until I had a winter without a seasonal job that I started trying to write something as long as a novel. I was thirty three at the time.

Question:  As a first novel, this book is arriving with fantastic advance praise—from C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, William Kent Krueger, Nelson DeMille. All heavy hitters. How did you go about rounding them up? And what did it feel like to see those comments roll in?

Erik Storey: The roundup was the work of my fantastic editor, and my amazing agent. I had nothing to do with it. I did, however, write a heap of gushing thank-you letters. These people are my writing heroes, and it was beyond strange to realize it was my book they were talking about. I felt like they were perhaps mistaken, that they’d confused my book with one from someone else. I am still having a hard time believing that all of this is real, that I won’t wake up from this and say to my wife, “Honey, I had the best dream!”

Question: You have written only short fiction, as I gather, before this. Were the short stories along these same lines or completely different? What was the hardest thing about making the switch to a longer form? Or the easiest? Are you still writing short stories?

Erik Storey: Most of my short stories were set in the outdoors, but that is about as far as the similarities went. They were crime fiction, mostly, and a lot darker and twisted than the book. The hardest thing about making the switch was making writing daily a habit. I knew the only way I’d finish a manuscript was to write 1000 words a day. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Writing short stories was much easier. I could write them in my spare time, and editing them didn’t take near as long.

Question: What writers inspire you?

Erik Storey: Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, John D. Macdonald, Louis L’Amour, Mickey Spillane, Jack London, Tom Robbins, Jim Harrison, and there’s also this very talented mystery writer whom I admire who just recently won the RMFW Writer of the year. He writes about Allison Coil, an outfitter and a wilderness wonder woman. Can’t seem to remember his name, though. Mark something . . .

Question: Where is Clyde heading next? It seems like there are some unresolved issues, to say the least. Do you have future stories in the works?

Erik Storey: The second Clyde Barr book will involve Clyde, bikers, and a terror alert, all coming together on the Ute Reservation in Northeast Utah. I hope to be able to continue writing about Mr. Barr, but it will ultimately be up to the readers whether or not the series continues.

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Erik Storey’s website.

On Twitter

On Facebook

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REVIEW:

At one point in time, the world was simply a “wide-open adventure” to Clyde Barr. A stint in the Merchant Marines. Camping across Africa at a time when he was “naïve but lucky.” Then “dreary jobs” like watching cows and building fences and digging wells. Then, hunting poachers in animal reserves and guiding safaris. And “helping the underdogs” in coups and revolutions, “picking the side I approved of.”

Not all went well, including a stint in a Mexican prison.  Clyde Barr has “has seen evil on three continents.” But there’s one thing about Clyde Barr. When he gives someone a promise, “nothing short of dying” will prevent him from following through. When his sister calls, Clyde Barr hears a tone in her voice he doesn’t like, “the same tone and pleading I’d heard as a child on the bad nights. The nights that Mom and Dad—or Mom and some new guy—were fighting, or when one of those guys, drunk and out of control, chose to hurt us.”

So Clyde makes a promise. To help. To come get Jen.

As always, Clyde gets to pick the side he approves of. And this decision is a snap.

And Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying begins its rocket ride around Western Colorado. Clyde is just a brother looking for a sister. Easy? Right?

The search starts in a bar called the Cellar in Clifton. “The place smelled of piss and mildew and stale beer. There was something else, too: the acrid sweat of the strung out—a smell that reminded me of the little cantina in Bolivia where people in the coca trade use booze to come down from the powder cloud that gets them through the long shifts. If broken souls had an odor, they’d smell like the Cellar.”

Clyde Barr is full of keen little observations like that one. And he’s not all bad boy. He’s got a pistol, a knife, a .375 Holland & Holland, sure. But then there are the paperbacks like the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche or the stories of H. Rider Haggard.

Clyde befriends a woman named Allie. He’s a bit of a knight-errant—and knows it. He takes his cues from childhood reading about Gawain, Perceval and Lancelot. The story winds to Rifle and the hills nearby. Clyde has an eye for “empty country—my favorite kind” but they are alternately chasing and being chased. Then it’s up the Yampa River Valley to Steamboat Springs and then onto Leadville; Nothing Short of Dying covers a big chunk of northwestern Colorado.

To beef up his team, Clyde pulls in a guy named Zeke. They had met in the prison in Mexico. Zeke killed two fellow prisoners with his bare hands and a prison guard with a shoelace garrote. Zeke was never caught because there was only one witness—Clyde. The result? Zeke, a guy who once “lost all interest in the human race,” owes Clyde. And Zeke enlists in Clyde’s mission, tempted in part by gaining access to any “spoils” from taking down a few sinister bad boys. One named Chopo and another named Alvis. There are gun fights, knife fights and fight fights. For every mess Clyde cleans up, he drags another with him.

Some of the scenes are Reacher-esque, but Clyde Barr is much less a cartoon than the Reacher’s impossible (but oh so fun) rumbles. Where Reacher travels with precious little, in fact, Clyde Barr drags every regret and mistake with him on every page. Fuel—motivation—is never in short supply.

Nothing Short of Dying is a big, sweeping, fast-paced thriller with guts. Push down the kickstarter on the first few pages and take yourself for a ride with Clyde Barr, a man who knows himself very, very well. “The wild places….have the ability to send you deeper into your mind than you’d go if you were in a more civilized place. It’s what makes those of us who spend most of our lives in the wilderness go crazy.”

Yes, and Nietzshe said something along the lines of “stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back.”

Clyde Barr returns the stare with action and purpose. It isn’t always pretty, but the point isn’t “how,” it’s “what.”

Clyde Barr shows knows exactly how to get to that crazy place.

All he needs to do is pick the side that’s worth fighting for.