Pete Hautman is the author of many novels for adults and teens, including the 2004 National Book Award winner Godless, Los Angeles Book Prize winner The Big Crunch, and three New York Times Notable Books: Drawing Dead, The Mortal Nuts, and Rash.
With novelist, poet, and occasional co-author Mary Logue, Hautman divides his time between Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Stockholm, Wisconsin. His latest book is Eden West, the story of a boy growing up in an isolated doomsday cult in Montana.
Sometimes when I’m working on a puzzle—a crossword, maybe, or a knotty relationship issue—I get hopelessly mired in a feedback loop. The same unproductive thoughts form a conceptual whirlpool leading to the same dead ends. The solution comes only after I set the problem aside for a bit. If it’s a crossword puzzle, I might glance at it hours later and say, “Oh, of course! The answer is obvious!” If it’s a relationship issue, after sleeping on it I might realize, “Oh! I get it! She was right!”
Back in 2002 I started work on two novels exploring a similar theme. They both had a teenage male protagonist, and they were both about that boy’s struggle with the religion in which he’d been raised.
One of the novels, Godless, was the loosely autobiographical story of Jason Bock, a Roman Catholic teen who rejects his parents’ religion outright and sets out to create his own custom religion worshiping the local water tower. The second novel, Eden West, was about Jacob, a boy raised in an insular doomsday cult in Montana, whose faith is torn from him when outsiders enter his cloistered world.
For a month or two I worked on both books, going from one to the other as the mood took me. I saw them as two sides of the same story. In Godless, Jason was impelled by internal forces—his doubts came from within. Eden West’s Jacob is secure in his faith. He does not question, and he has no doubts—until he meets two “worldly” teens from outside the compound.
By the time I had a few chapters written in each book, Eden West ground to a halt. It was too complicated. There were too may unknowns. The characters were blurry. It would require at least one trip to Montana, and a ton of research about cults, and I would have to drown myself in scripture. I didn’t have the confidence to move it forward, so I set Eden West aside.
I finished writing Godless about a year and a half later. Enough about religion, I thought. I had plenty of other less contentious things to write about. But Eden West kept niggling at me. Every few weeks I’d look at it, maybe add a scene or a few paragraphs, do some reading and thinking, just to keep the idea alive. Over the next ten years the novel grew, slowly and steadily. I read everything I could find about doomsday cults. I began to understand my characters. Ideas sifted, settled, and sometimes went away. I kept the good stuff and let the wind take the chaff.
Eventually I drove to Montana. When I returned home I immersed myself in Judaic and Christian apocrypha. I went back to Montana again the next year, and when I returned from that second trip in 2011 the landscape of Eden West—the characters, the fictional epistemology, and most of all the essential and very human story of family, faith, love, and loss came together. I had all the pieces. I began writing in earnest.
I’ve always had a lot of overlap in my writings. Right now I’m working on and off on five different novels—three middle-grade, one YA, and one adult. When I get stuck on one, I set it aside and work on something else. I know that “system” doesn’t work for most writers, but because my process tends to be protracted, it works for me. Sometimes a book needs to rest for a bit and wait for the author to catch up.
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Word Nerds — May 19 — https://thewordnerds. wordpress.com/
Buried Under Books — May 20 — http://cncbooksblog.wordpress. com/
My Book Views — May 21 — http://my-book-views.blogspot. com/
The Children’s Book Review — May 22 — http://www. thechildrensbookreview.com/
My Mercurial Musings — May 26 — http://www.mymercurialmusings. com/
The Roarbots — May 27 — http://theroarbots.com/
Unleashing Readers — May 29 — http://www.unleashingreaders. com/
Hudson Booksellers — June 1 — http://www.hudsonbooksellers. com/