Any historical novel means doing considerable research. For this one I went through years of archived newspapers, historical accounts, personal memoirs and letters, and hundreds of black and white photographs showing the hardship and damage inflicted by the dusters and drought. The Kansas Historical Society along with a number of websites and texts were very helpful. I gained inspiration by rereading some Steinbeck, as well as Woody Guthrie’s House of Earth, and I really enjoyed the digging and learning about the people and how they survived and adapted. They sure were a tough breed.
From everything I collected, I had to choose carefully, picking only what created the strongest images. There was so much that I couldn’t include because it would have bogged down the story’s pace.
As with my other novels, there’s a lot of dialogue in this one. I like to let the characters interact and let their words show more than they’re telling. And I like to let them tell it from their own perspectives, meaning they sometimes prove unreliable, which often adds some humor. And although I don’t necessarily share their viewpoints, it’s important to let the characters steer their own course, staying true to their own nature, however misguided they may be.
The opening scenes introduce us to Sonny and Clara struggling with their relationship. They live miles from town with no electricity, no phone, and no modern conveniences. Add to the mix a heartless banker looking to collect money they owe but don’t have.
While Sonny is determined to stay on the ailing farm that’s been passed down father to son, Clara’s convinced they need to leave and seek out a better life. As he splits wood in his yard late one afternoon, he wonders why she isn’t back from town yet, fixing supper like she always does. And the notion hits him that maybe she isn’t coming back.
The scene shifts to Clara, on the phone in the back of the general store miles away, talking to her mother about leaving Sonny and running off to California. Done with the call, she gets in the old truck and drives west, determined never to come back.
Then life throws some more curves at them, and the reader gets introduced to various townsfolk, rainmakers, city officials and lawmen, traveling show performers, a radio announcer with multiple on-air personalities, and Okies leaving and klansmen coming to settle a score.
I had a lot of fun coming up with the host of characters. And as usual, none of the characters are based on anyone I’ve ever known, but it’s funny by the end of the writing I feel I know each of them quite well.
And as subplots and sub-characters are introduced, the story continues to shift from his point of view to hers and back.
Initially I had a different outcome in mind, but as the story took shape and the characters developed, a stronger ending came to me by the time the first draft was complete. And that’s why I don’t generally follow an outline, preferring to see where the story takes me.
As far as naming the characters, I’m fussy about getting it right, often changing names to what suits each of them better as the story progresses. Each name has to be a perfect fit, and sometimes I go through several changes before I feel I’ve got it right. The same goes for the book’s title. Sometimes I go from one working title to another before it’s right. And once in a while, like on this one, I nail it before I even start writing page one, other times the right title doesn’t come until the final draft.
Well, I hope I’ve peaked your interest in Call Down the Thunder. You can find a copy at your favorite bookseller or order it online. And you can find out more about me and my other stories at dietrichkalteis.com or ecwpress.com.