Monday, October 29, 2012

Kellie Doherty interviews Bill Carter: Boom Bust Boom

Bill Carter is a man of many hats: a photographer, a filmmaker, a journalist and an author, he also worked as a firefighter, a bartender and a fisherman. He’s traveled to more than 45 countries, but he lives Southern Arizona. His book Boom Bust Boom is a narrative exploration about the necessities of copper and the brutal truth of the mining process. The story delves into the issues surrounding the Pebble Mine. It is also a tale of how one man tries to protect his family, delves into communities far from his hometown, and holds conversations with natives and big-shot businessmen alike. 

Your book, Boom, Bust, Boom, centers around the need (and greed) concerning copper, did you really just stumble upon the subject after you got sick from your home-grown garden?

There are three points of origin for this book. One, I lived in Bisbee, Arizona, which has a rich history of copper mining. Just living there conjures up the Wild West and copper barons. When talk began of Freeport McMoRan reopening the mine that planted a seed in my mind. Second, the level of arsenic in the yard worried me and astonished me, especially since the mine had been closed for 35 years and the smelters,which would have been mostly responsible for the pollutants,had been shut down since 1908. Third, since I had spent four seasons working as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay I was aware of the Pebble mine issue which I wrote about in my book Red Summer. All these combined made me begin to realize that one, I don't actually know where I live, and two, I am not sure I want to keep living there, and three, Pebble mine, if it ever got up and running would absolutely destroy the Bristol Bay salmon run.

The thing I enjoyed most when reading your book was the first-hand conversations you had with so many people. What was it like talking to all of them?

All my books are deeply woven into first hand conversations with people. I enjoy listening to people. I like to hear them out on their terms. I may not agree with them at all, but I still enjoy hearing them out. I think the trick to being able to speak to total strangers is them trusting me. I don't trick anyone. I am curious creature and they recognize that and the conversation begins.

After doing so much research and writing a book about the necessity of copper, do you think Pebble Mine will open?

This is a complex issue and needs a complex answer, but in order to keep it short, I will say this: Due to the way the mining laws are set up in the U.S. and in Alaska, I think the only real hope is an executive order declaring Bristol Bay a national treasure; a valuable watershed that must be protected from large scale contamination.  The 1872 mining law and Alaskan laws regarding mining make it almost impossible to say “no” to a mine. This needs to be corrected and is something I am deeply trying to make aware to people. As a society there is no doubt we need copper. However there should be a way by science and law that we, as a society, have the ability to recognize when a mine is a clear and present danger to an already existing resource. One that cannot be replaced. There should be a place in our mining laws for the will of the people to stand up and say no. That is going to take an act of Congress to change the 1872 mining law and in today's partisan politicians I don't see that happening anytime soon. Thus short of an executive order declaring Bristol Bay a natural resource that must be protected, forever,I fear the mining companies will wait until political winds in Washington favor them and then begin the process again.

Your book seems to showcase the gritty existence of life and the greed of certain bands of people. How did you find the right agent and publisher for your writing style?

Getting an agent and publisher can be a life long journey for many writers. It took many years for me to get both. The publishing industry is set up as a Catch 22 process. You can't get a publisher without an agent, because no one will read your manuscript, and you can't get an agent without some promise of a publisher paying you. I was lucky enough to meet Jim Harrison, the writer, who loved my manuscript for my first book. He wrote a letter to someone and after years of rejection I got a publisher. What he did is important to understand. He did not get me a deal. What he did is suggest to someone to actually read the manuscript. That is what is usually needed. And when the door opens my job was to be ready. I find people hoping to have a writing career often don't realize those doors occasionally open. You have to be ready with something. Aspiration and dreaming of being a writer is a sure way for the door to close. Having something written in hand is the key.

As for my publisher now. I am with Scribner and my editor is Colin Harrison, who is a very accomplished writer as well. We have a good relationship and hope to continue for many books to come.

All writers get writer’s block sometime in their writing career. What did you do to overcome it?

I try not to worry about it too much, although it is hard not to. After a while, I usually remember it is part of a processand that perhaps the block is for a reason. To think something through, to take a break, etc.

What do you think of the self-publishing route?

I think the self-publishing route will only get larger. Technology dictates that. But, making a living from writing alone is rare. I have always had various jobs to support my day-job of writing. It seems to me that self-publishing allows more people to get their stories out, but at the same time I fear we also are losing a valuable filter on what is worth reading. I am not a fan of the small club of publishing and agents controlling content, however I am also not a fan of unedited material flooding the market. I appreciate the editing process with Scribner as something that sharpens my skills, my book. 

What lessons did you learn from going through the publication process?

That it is a long arduous process. Hard work and staying in the chair is what it takes. When it comes to the PR aspect you have to be ready to do much much more than the publisher will be willing to do. They operate on the big media circles and books are like airplanes lined up on a tarmac. When you are next in line they begin to focus their machine on your book. Those first few moments of flight they are right there speaking into your ear, navigating the way. But once the plane is put on auto pilot, which we all know happens very fast in actual fights, they disappear. So after years of working on a book, you can be left standing alone at a bookstore with no proper support to move the book. So, working on this aspect of the publishing is also very important. 

What words of wisdom do you have for emerging authors?

I usually tell young budding authors to relax for a bit. Great you have the itch, but really what most people need is a voice worth listening to. To get that most of us have to live a little. Go out into the world, or become really good at something. Listen to people. Getting out of college and writing a book right away is very rare in today's world. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens wrote masterpieces as young men, but the world was different. They grew up surrounded by difficult times. This helps shape a person's voice. When I was 22, I left college and went to Asia for two years. I made a long list of all the books I wanted to read. About 200 books. Eventually, I read them all. That time of just reading and traveling and being is what planted the seeds of being a writer.

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