Kathryn Wilder is the author of the memoir Desert Chrome: Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West (Torrey House Press, May 2021),
Kirkus Reviews calls it “a spirited and impassioned chronicle.” Wilder’s essays have been cited in Best American Essays and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. They have appeared in such publications as High Desert Journal, River Teeth, Midway Journal, Fourth Genre, and Sierra, and in many anthologies and Hawai`i magazines. A graduate of the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she was a 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve finalist for the 2016 and 2019 Ellen Meloy Fund Desert Writers Award and 2018 finalist for the Waterston Desert Writing Prize. She lives among mustangs in southwestern Colorado, where she ranches with her family in the Dolores River watershed.
“Testimony to the healing power of wildness . . . a candid memoir that interweaves a trajectory of loss, pain, and hard-won serenity with a paean to wild horses.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS
“‘Blame it or praise it,’ Virginia Woolf writes, ‘there is no denying the wild horse in us.’ Desert Chrome is the story of a landscape and the many ways the land sings us into being. It is the story of one of our most iconic North American species, Equus caballus, the wild horse. And, most of all, it is the story of a woman coming to know her own wildness—a wildness that is free, and sustaining, and on her own terms.”
—JOE WILKINS, author of Fall Back Down When I Die and The Mountain and the Fathers
Do you write in more than one genre? I write fiction and nonfiction yet publish mostly literary nonfiction (apparently, my fiction needs work). Occasionally a poem slips out—one in about every ten years.
Tell us about your writing process: I write first by hand, usually outside unless it’s too cold, sitting on a rock or the rowing seat of a raft, or in a camp chair on the cabin porch. Those journal entries, where I’m just recording what’s going on around me or writing a scene of fiction that’s wanting out, will be fresh and raw and unfiltered, like rainwater rushing over the edge of the cliff into the creek. I don’t have to finish those entries for them to be the first draft of something—because of whatever details I put in, I can go back, reread, and reconstruct where I was and what I was feeling enough to write more. I can feel the rain, hear it collecting, pushing, splashing; I can smell it; it becomes a thing, a subject, and a story gathers around it…as long as I have enough scribbled details
When I transcribe that material onto the computer, I make changes, add details, clean up wrong sentences, and start to see structure, which becomes the second draft. From that point, it’s a process of braiding: printing out a hard copy and again sitting outside if possible to edit and rewrite; taking those changes back to the computer; editing for a while there; and printing out and making notes on hard copy, etc. It might be ten or fifteen drafts before anyone else sees it.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Perhaps the most challenging parts are prioritizing and dealing with distractions. I read once, back when my kids were small, about a mother setting up the playpen and climbing inside with her typewriter, typing away while her kids played around her. I thought that was brilliant! Today, when I’m at the ranch headquarters, my son and his family in their own house on the same property, interruptions are constant—my sisters and mother will tell you that I cannot get through a single phone call without an interruption of some sort. It might be grandkids wanting to show me something (I am not complaining!), or cattle are out somewhere, and I have to jump up, pull on my boots, and race around afoot or in the side-by-side chasing cows; or it’s simply, suddenly, chore time. This happens whether I’m on a phone call or deep into revision.
I have found that I recover from interruption more easily during some parts of revision than in other parts. The final proofreading of Desert Chrome was interrupted constantly, but since I was reading carefully line by line and not needing to hold a whole concept or scene in my head, I could mark my place and return to it without stress (errors do occur in the book, however, which I may have found with better concentration).
For some of the revision, I had to go into isolation—days at the cabin alone. And I love those times, the creek, black bears, dogs, and mustangs my company. I understand now why going to a writer’s retreat is so desired!
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I would tell my freshman comp students to outline after they had a first draft. Fresh from high school, they would look at me, confused, and I would say, how do you know what you want to write if you haven’t started writing? And then I’d say, shit-can the five-paragraph essay. Stop thinking. Start writing. When you have even as few as a couple of pages, we can look at what’s coming out and see if there’s an outline to be found. This paralyzed many of them.
I don’t think I’ve outlined anything since I was required to do so in high school, and I’m guessing I did it after that first draft, which was probably considered cheating at the time. When I’m beginning a project, if I force myself to think about something like organization, it will stifle me. I won’t be able to move, think, feel. Write.
Later, when I’ve got material all over the place and organization is imperative, I might panic first, then experiment with ordering chapters or paragraphs in different ways. Maybe a previously written outline would help me at this point. But. It’s not likely to happen.
When I wrote my thesis for the Institute of American Indian Arts, I chose the simple format of alternating longer, essay-type chapters with shorter pieces. It worked enough to get the job done but felt too regulated, constrained, linear, so as I moved material into what was becoming Desert Chrome the book, I mixed it all up and put the small pieces in where my gut told me to. That felt so much better.
Do you have any advice for new writers? In two ways, I am an old writer: I’m sixty-six, and I have been writing for a long time. That Desert Chrome came out two-plus decades after my first books (a children’s book co-written with the painter Redwing T. Nez and two anthologies), with only articles, essays, and some fiction in between, is, on the one hand, an embarrassment; on the other, it’s a nod to my perseverance (or stubbornness). I did not quit. I will not quit.
Writing is about writing first, and then it seems to me that it is about rejection and resiliency. Fortitude. Some people have great success stories. Most do not. My mother published a new book in her eighties. I want to do that. I’d also like to publish a few more before then. How do I do accomplish that? Keep writing, even in the face of rejection.
How do our readers reach out to learn more about you and your work?
Thank you so much for this opportunity, George, and your support of writers and IAIA alum!
Kathryn Wilder’s “Desert Chrome,” Tychi and Jasper, Brumley Point and
Temple Butte in the background; Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, Disappointment Valley, Southwest Colorado
Into Madness (Born from Stone Saga – Book 1 of 3)
After a decade in hiding, captured, and imprisoned, Ravin Carolingian believes she has nothing more to lose. Instead of the execution she expected, Ravin faces a forced marriage to Brakken, the son of the man who killed her father and toppled her kingdom. Blinded by hatred, Ravin vows that marriage will never take place. Instead, she will exact revenge, no matter the cost.
Following a series of magical attacks, and as she fights the unnatural attraction she feels for Brakken, Ravin is left to question everything she thought she knew about herself. Still, as the line between ally and enemy blurs, one thing becomes clear, if she is to help the Carolingian people, Ravin must escape the evil that walks the halls of the palace she once called home.
The second book in the trilogy, Heart’s Divided, is due to be published in May of 2021, and the third, The Reckoning, later that fall.
Do you write in more than one genre? Memoir, short stories, and fantasy.
What brought you to writing? As a child, there wasn’t much I loved more than reading. Actually, there was nothing I loved more than horses. In my youth, I didn’t have a horse; I fed my passion by submersing myself in books: My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, and any novel where the protagonist was a girl with a horse.
As an adult and a trainer of racehorses, I started writing freelance for industry publications, like Backstretch Magazine, Bloodhorse, and The Racing Form. From there, I branched out and started writing special feature articles for local newspapers, like The Contra Costa Times, Tri-Valley Herald, and Valley Times.
When I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, I was encouraged to write a memoir. My book is about the horse I owned and trained to run in all three legs of the American Triple Crown of Racing—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
With international recognition for Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure, I tried my hand at telling stories. Short stories kept my interest until a close friend encouraged me to try the NANOWRIMO challenge. Four years later, I published my debut novel, Into Madness.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I would have to say hybrid. Literary agents, through their query submission standards, make it difficult to hire them, emphasis on hiring them. To send a query, you must follow their detailed outline—and whatever you do, don’t deviate from their outline—and, by the way, don’t expect to get a response unless they pick you. Still, I prefer a readers’ opinion over an agent who’s looking for a reason to reject rather than enjoy.
Where do you write? And what about distractions? I sit at my kitchen table here in Central Oregon and gaze out at a bucolic scene for inspiration. Here are my distractions:
- I get to watch as the deer clear cut my garden.
- Squirrels chew off the sprinkler heads, trim the siding, and shorten the roof’s metal exhaust pipes.
- Don’t even get me started on the Robins.
- Pine needle hurricanes.
- Still, the quail and their walnut-sized babies are as cute as all get out.
Do you ever develop plots or characters around real-life experiences? Memoir aside, in my first book of short stories, For Want of a Horse, I drew on my twenty-four-year experience with training racehorses. Some of the stories were real-life incidences, though a few I embellished.
The current novel that I’m writing and have tentatively named ‘Out of the Blue’ is a middle-grade novel about training and racing dragons. So, of course, after more than one-third of my life spent at the racetrack, I change everything that has to do with hoofed animals to winged animals.
Since dragons don’t eat hay and grain, I doubt children will like the idea of leading lambs down the shedrow at feeding time. Feeding the dragons was a problem to overcome. An essential part of the story, it had to be ironed out right from the start.
How do you come up with names for your characters? That’s the easy part of the creative process, at least for me. I develop a character in my head, and then the name comes easy. I Google popular names for specific eras in history—for instance, Irish names in the 8th century. I don’t use character names that aren’t easily pronounceable. To me, those types of names tend to slow down the reader.
Do you use real settings or make them up? Unless it’s a massive city like New York, London, Beijing, I like to make up a name located in a recognizable area. Heaven forbid that a real town resident reads my book and calls me out on a lake that doesn’t exist.
In my historical fantasy, Into Madness, I loosely based the world I built in a Baltic region. The landmasses and names are all created. However, there was a Carolingian in history. I liked it, so I used it. (My sister, who I lost to cancer, was named Carol. Might have something to do with the name choice and why I liked it.)
Have you ever developed a quintessentially eccentric character? At first read, this question seemed simple, but I found myself stumped. Once I begin to interact with them within the story, my characters become very real to me, and I don’t think of them as quirky or eccentric.
What is one of your favorite books? Why? Lonesome Dove — If I had not seen the mini-series first, I would’ve put this book down in the first chapter―pigs, dust, and rattlesnakes. For me, it started so slow; it was an effort to turn the pages. When I finished the book, I grieved. I grieved because there was not another page to turn, I grieved for the loss of the friends left behind within its pages, and I grieve even now―because I wasn’t the one who wrote it.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? As an author? Literary agents. ?
Looking to the future, what do you see? Finding within myself the focus necessary to finish the three novels I have in the works. And in particular, I am excited about the dragon racing novel. The characters are so endearing, and the plot elements are so current. My characters face prejudice, racism, bullying, climate change, species extinction, fair play, and hope within the story’s overall umbrella.
Any other thoughts you care to share? I have heard many reasons why writers write—the list is long. A good story is a gift. A gift that you get to share over and over again. And each time you share it, you enjoy it once again along with the recipient.
We don’t need to ask a comedian what’s the best part of his performance. It will always be the audience’s laughter, right? As an author, I find no greater pleasure than the thought that my words, my story, brings a few minutes or a few hours of entertainment into someone’s life.
What do you find to be the best part for a writer? A review. A five-star review was recently posted on ‘Into Madness,’ in the comment section was a “ :)” and nothing more. While I like to hear my readers’ opinions, what they liked, what they wanted, still that smiley face was just as encouraging as any other review. It told me so much about how my story had affected my reader. And, just as important, that smiley face encouraged me to get to back work.
For those of you who hesitate to take the time to post a review, remember even something as simple as a smile is manna from heaven for the writer who has spent hundreds of hours alone bringing words to life.
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