Stephen Bly is the author of 95 books and hundreds of articles. The mayor of Winchester, Idaho, in his spare time, he pursues the three Rs of ridin’, ropin’ and rodeo… and construction of Broken Arrow Crossing, a false-front western village near his home. You can visit his website at www.BlyBooks.com.
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Christy Award-winning author Stephen Bly's latest work of fiction, ONE STEP OVER THE BORDER, is a modern-day cowboy tale about two friends who travel across the Southwest in search of a special woman one of them had met --- and lost --- years ago. In this interview, Bly describes what has always appealed to him about westerns and explains what sets this particular book apart from others in the genre as well as his own body of work. He also discusses how he was inspired to write this quirky novel, shares some of his own diverse interests and professions, and reveals what he hopes readers will take away from his work.
Question: Why are you a good choice for an interview?
Stephen Bly: I write about the West (historic or modern) from the inside. Born and raised on western ranches, I have both the heart and mind to describe things as they really were, and are. You’ll get a folksy, personal, right-to-the-point interview with humor and heart.
Q: You’re known for your classic westerns, so why write a contemporary western?
SB: Well, there are those who think the frontier has long passed and with it the “code of the west.” The truth is, both are still around...and it’s fun to show that in a contemporary story. The West is so big, so diverse, so enchanting, and it’s a thrill to write about it in any era.
Q: You’re a writer, a pastor, a mayor, and an antique gun collector. What do these diverse avocations have to do with the other?
SB: And you didn’t even mention my fondness for Jimmy Buffet music. In every field I want to grow as a person --- push myself, my skills, my understanding, my spirit. I am not a "sit around and let life come to me" person. I want to dive into life and change it, change it for the better if I can. Look again at that list; I write a lot of fiction books, all from a Christian world view. Being pastor helps me stay focused. I’m mayor of a town of 308 in the mountains of Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation --- that keeps me very western. I collect old Winchester rifles, which reflects my love of historical accuracy. (And Jimmy Buffet music? Hey, there’s not a whole lot of difference between a pirate and an outlaw.)
Q: What’s unique about ONE STEP OVER THE BORDER?
SB: It’s a buddy story, road romp where the time-tested values of cowboys rub up against contemporary values. It’s a crazy story that becomes more logical as the reader gets deeper into it. In spite of yourself, it will make you laugh and make you cry, and make you think about your own life in a fresh, new way. The characters are a little crazy, but the reader will make life-long friends with them.
Q: Why did you enter into your character’s search for the missing fictional Juanita?
SB: What a fun project! Don’t we all have someone in the past, who we knew for only a short while, that we wish we could have known all our lives? So when Hap and Laramie ventured out on a search for Hap’s Juanita, I decided to invite others to go along too. I want the whole country to be searching for his Juanita. But she’s fictional, some complain. Oh, there’s a thin line between fact and fiction.
Q: What happens when someone e-mails Hap and orders a “Juanita search kit?”
SB: There’s a lot of fun things in the kit: bumper sticker, magnet, bookmark, stickers, flyers, etc. It’s a whole packet of search material that will equip anyone to set out and find a “Juanita” where they live. If they send Hap an e-mail, or snail mail him a picture of the fun places where they’ve stuck their Juanita signs, they’ll receive a free copy of the book. It’s all there on the website at www.OneStepOverTheBorder.com.
Q: How did you get the idea for the storyline?
SB: Paperback writers have crazy minds. I have stories lined up to be told that are longer than the Wal-Mart line the day after Thanksgiving. I wanted a story so audacious the reader would have to laugh, that would become so believable the reader would have to care. This is what popped into my head.
Q: What’s your favorite scene and why? What’s the funniest?
SB: The last scene is my favorite, because it makes the whole quest have purpose and meaning. I can’t say more or it would spoil the story. The funniest? The two café scenes --- one in a Mexican Cantina, and one in a Wyoming roadhouse. Both have me laughing no matter how many times I read them.
Q: How would you describe your “most likely” reader? What “felt need” does this book meet?
SB: While the book will very much appeal to both men and women readers, by sheer numbers, more women will read it, especially country gals with cowboy-on-their-mind kinds of hearts. While people often talk of women looking for “knights on white horses,” most American women have at one time in their lives longed for a “cowboy” on any color of horse. So this will have some appeal there. Plus the drive to find that one girl --- the one you can’t forget --- has an appeal to the reader. As far as felt need, we all have a felt need to find the “right” person to share our lives with and the need to think that other person has been searching for us. In that way, it’s a satisfying (and yet surprising) story.
We have the need to be searched for and found, the need to complete something we promised ourselves long ago. We have the need to do the right thing, even if no one knows it; the need to make a stand against all odds. And the need to be a friend (and have a friend) through all the struggles in life.
Q: Hap’s roping partner, Laramie, calls Hap’s search for “his Juanita” an “idiot obsession.” Why do you think people get sucked into idiot obsessions? And have you ever had one?
SB: People grab onto “idiot obsessions” because of the goal (or perceived goal) in their minds that it will accomplish something, produce something, change something…and this obsession is the only way they know how to achieve that result. Have I had one? Are you kidding? Being a full-time fiction writer is an idiot obsession. Most people have the good sense to avoid such an occupation.
Q: The whole Juanita campaign has allusions to this. In what way does your book address missing-persons issues or deal with the problem of illegal aliens? Or does it?
SB: This book does not deal with either subject. Juanita is not lost, kidnapped, or hiding. She just hasn’t been seen by Hap in 18 years. It's a “where is she now” kind of story, so it doesn’t deal with the heartbreaking issue of a missing person. While there is a moment of pondering about illegal aliens risking their lives to cross the border, that subject is not dealt with. Yet, there are some contemporary issues dealt within the book, from domestic abuse, across-the-border cattle rustling and marijuana growing, to eminent domain issues, handicapped children, and others. The issues are not as important as how Hap and Laramie deal with them.
Q: What is different about this book from others you’ve written?
SB: First of all, I’ve never had two male protagonists before. The point of view goes from chapter to chapter between Hap and Laramie. From a technical standpoint, I’ve also never written a novel without some interior monologue. This has none. And, more than any before, the moral of the story gradually unfolds. It’s more subtle than others, I think. I never jerk the line, but just let the reader slowly swallow the bait.
Q: How do you expect this book to impact readers? Give some specific benefits.
SB: Okay, they are going to laugh and cry and shake their heads, then tell their friends, “you need to read this book.” They will definitely want to know more about Hap and Laramie. But in the process, they will see both Hap and Laramie find completion and healing from the past, and that will give the reader hope for their own situation. It will encourage them to keep plugging away, because there is a way to resolve what you are struggling with.
Q: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
SB: Getting to meet Hap and Laramie --- they changed my life. I laugh a little deeper because of them. But, I love their loyalty to each other. It makes me cherish my friends even more. Also, I love the switches in the story. The places when they get themselves into such a bind, I was about to give up on them, and then something unexpected happened, and they made it a success.
Q: What’s the most important point you want to make about yourself and your book, ONE STEP OVER THE BORDER?
SB: Reading ought to be enjoyable. Read ONE STEP OVER THE BORDER for fun. Relax. In doing that, it will change the way you look at your life. A change for the better, I think.
Sometimes I think a book is merely the sub-title of life. We live our lives with triumph and tragedy, and a good book tells the story in print...just in case you missed the storyline somewhere. So a good book, even historical fiction, is in sync with real life. That’s what this book does.
Q: What do you dislike about the life of a writer?
SB: Incessantly long lists of interview questions.
Q: What’s your favorite story about the life of a novelist?
SB: I love how readers become close friends of my fictional characters. I’ve been amazed when lady readers (and their daughters) write to me, asking for the phone number of one of my fictional single cowboy characters.
Q: How can ONE STEP OVER THE BORDER be purchased?
SB: ONE STEP OVER THE BORDER can be pre-ordered at your nearest quality bookstore, or at www.BlyBooks.com (to get an autographed copy), or from your favorite online bookstore.
© Copyright 2017, Stephen Bly. All rights reserved.
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