THE BAG OF BEANS
by David E. Hilton
The Montréal Review, April 2011
David E. Hilton, author of Kings of Colorado: A Novel
Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Usually, when an author sets out to write his or her first novel, it's with an effort and desire that springs from the collaboration of experience. At least, that was my finding when I wrote Kings of Colorado. I'm discovering now that there's more. It's all around me and it scares the hell out of me to tread into such unknown waters.
I grew up in the mountains of West Texas, Alpine, more specifically. Living life as a young boy in that region filled me immensely with a vast array of experiences that I would someday draw upon as a writer. From hiking in Big Bend National Park (or someone's backyard mountain for that matter) to walking the train tracks with my friends after school. Or helping my best buddy chore around the horse barns. You get the idea. I was feeding my future muse.
Everyone's different. Everyone draws upon his/her own muse when sitting down (or remain standing, i.e. Hemingway) to write something great. And I say great only because most writers-the one's who are mature enough to not fool themselves-truly believe that their work will always be flawed in the eyes of others, and that no one person will really consider it perfect. That's okay, as long as it's great to them - even with said flaws. Indeed.
But that muse... It's such an elusive thing, and the only way to draw it out, as a writer, is to be patient, and to be consistent. Once you do, congratulations. Now the fun begins. The muse will many times whisper in a writer's ear, reminding them to think back and pull from their experiences in life, and memories so strong they must somehow find their way onto the page.
Recently, I began to think I'd seen the last of my muse. He hadn't shown up in quite some time, leaving me to ponder if perhaps he was only interested in one book, after all. Granted, I hadn't given him a fair chance to find me. I was wrapped up and self-absorbed in other things, like going through a very difficult divorce. Some writers have truly found greatness while in the midst of grief and despair and all things extreme. I only found a cloud of nothingness when it came to inspiration and creativity. Which, I might add, was not helpful to the budding career I hoped to establish.
But then, through the darkness and the gloom, something happened. I pulled myself together enough to realize my priorities, and began to routinely place myself in front of my notebook. And wouldn't you know it? One night, my muse finally peeked around the corner, offering not reminders of life's experiences, but just pure imagination. Like a bag of magic beans. I wanted to jump up, hug him, toss him in the air. But I was too busy writing, jotting down thoughts and feelings before they flew out of my mind as they can sometimes easily do. And I have to say, since that moment, the writing experience for me has been just a little different.
When I wrote Kings of Colorado, I was a different person. I'd just met my newborn son, I was in a marriage, and when it came to writing my first book, I knew I had nothing to lose. I wrote the story that, in spirit, had long resided in my mind. Experiences, nuances, and old friends came out and onto the page. There was the plot, there's always the plot, but the characters and the soul of the book came freely, and that was always a wonderful feeling. I fell back into the mountains when I needed a setting. I wanted indeed to initially use the more familiar surroundings of West Texas, but decided instead to borrow the ones in Colorado. I desired more color, you see, and a higher elevation that caused a stronger sense of isolation, which plays a large role in the story. Everything popped. Everything flowed. And it only took eight months to crank out that first draft.
Now, a few years later, here I am. I have two boys, without whom I could not imagine life at all, and I am divorced. At the moment, this still feels awkward to write, and I suppose it always might. I often feel that there is less time in the day. Oh, there's also the fact that KINGS has been published, and has received much praise. You know what that means. Now there's pressure to write another successful book. The idea of the dreaded Second-Novel-Syndrome lurked like a creature in the closet. That's what I worried about for a time. What I should have realized-from the start-was all of that is horseshit. I should have looked into the mirror and told that person to write what he wants, and write what is in his heart. For if I didn't, it was just going to be garbage anyway.
I've been writing. And I think it's good. To me, that's all that matters.
I'm living my life, one day at a time, and enjoying each moment that comes. After all, what other choices have I? Yes, there are other roads, but those would only take me farther from a craft that I love. The story is coming, and that excites me. Even my boys can tell. And instead of my muse, I take hold of them. Give them hugs, and throw them into the air.
Life is hard. Life is good. And through it all, I am writing.
Kings of Colorado: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
"Hard, sad, stirring, poignant, and utterly beautiful. Hilton has written a coming of age story that will be remembered for its characters as well as its harrowing plot."
--Naseem Rakha, international bestselling author of The Crying Tree
"For years I have searched for an heir to Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES, and this is it. But in KINGS OF COLORADO, Hilton allows you to look into these characters and see that redemption is possible. The story of all things wild--wild horses, wild boys, and the wild landscape that looms above it all--this book is as heartbreaking and as hopeful as anything you will read this year. A fine novel."
--Will Lavender, New York Times bestselling author of Obedience
"Hilton's writing is brutal and poetic, his images haunting. A raw and powerful debut."
-- Noah Charney, international bestselling author of The Art Thief and Stealing the Mystic Lamb
"A heartfelt portrait of young men in a bygone age."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Hilton's portrayal of adolescent friendship is authentic and touching, and the story moves at a speedy pace as the boys' innocence is shattered in ever deeper and more profound ways...A sort of Stand by Me behind bars."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Suspenseful. . . engaging characters."
"Heartbreaking portrayal of innocence lost in the most profound sense. A former middle school teacher, Hilton clearly understands the struggle of adolescence, and he interrogates that struggle with finesse and admirable curiosity by pushing his characters to their most extreme limits. Will and his compatriots are achingly sympathetic, and their bond with each other and communal will to survive is riveting and thought-provoking."