Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dana Hand Interview

Author Dana Hand, author of Deep Creek (review here), was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions.

Library Dad - I recently finished reading Deep Creek, the story of Chinese miners that were murdered in Idaho in 1887. Would you classify the book as historical fiction, mystery, or something else?

Dana Hand - We wanted to write a rich, dense novel about crime and justice, but one told in a spare, suggestive style. That let us borrow from many literary traditions. Deep Creek is historical fiction; it's also a romance, a thriller, a mystery. Readers respond to the story in all kinds of ways. Goodreads classifies Deep Creek on thirty lists, from Best Historical Fiction to Best Villains.

LD - How did you find out about the murders in 1887 and what drove you to write about them?

DH - Will learned the story on a National Geographic assignment in 1981. Over thirty Chinese gold miners killed, and the killers went free. For years he compiled historical research, but the record was full of errors and lies. The truth about what happened, and why, needed imagination. Once Anne joined the project, our main characters—Joe, Grace, and Loi—emerged to reveal their intricate pasts. Each is a cultural half-breed, and they repeat the struggles between natives and strangers that still consume America today.

LD - There are scenes in the book that are clearly fantastical and others that are historical. How long did it take you to research the true story behind your characters?

DH - We don't make a simple distinction between history and fantasy. Each moment in our lives is a mix of what we think and feel, know and believe, and around every "fact" dances a shimmer of possibilities. Because the miners die horribly, their ghosts cannot rest. For Joe to live with the killers, he impersonates an old prospector. To escape death, Grace and Loi enter other states of being. Even Dr. Stanton, solid man of science, knows how Grace could bring home aspen leaves from a treeless canyon. At the heart of our book lies the conviction that humans constantly seek to transcend their limits. Joe calls it "real pretending."

LD - What's the least glamorous thing you do in the line of duty?

DH - Grading student essays, paying bills, and updating software.

LD - What keeps you up at night?

DH - Fearing that print books, and their readers, will disappear.

LD - Who is the smartest author you know?

DH - John McPhee and Joan Didion; smart in entirely different ways.

LD - Are you working on another book? If so, what can we expect?

DH - Yes, the working title is Lion Rock. It's set in Tanzania, on the northern safari route. It will be what our publisher has called an "intelligent thriller," full of violence, hot pursuit, and lots of brooding about the magnificent lands of East Africa, where mankind arose and the last great wilderness clings to survival. The Chinese will be along as well, but cast in new roles.

PS: many people ask us about the pen name, Dana Hand. It's short, unisex, and comes from both sides of our families.

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