This week, we’re talking with WSBA member Scott Wyatt, author of the historical novel Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge. Set in Idaho’s Northern Pacific Railroad Camp in 1882, it’s the story of a small-town murder — and the subsequent trial — that ignites racial tensions between white residents and Chinese immigrant workers.
We asked Scott a few questions about what it’s like to be a lawyer/author.
What inspired you to write Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge?
When I was young, I visited the home of one of my friend’s grandparents in Hope, Idaho. My friend and I explored the woods behind their house and came upon Chinese grave markers. His grandmother explained that thousands of Chinese had come to North Idaho late in the 19th century to build the Northern Pacific Railroad. They’d come and gone, almost without a trace, but some had died and were buried in the hills. I was fascinated. The image of thousands of foreign workers pouring in and out of this remote but beautiful part of North Idaho really sparked my imagination, and I wanted to know more. There was very little written about this period, but I knew the setting would make for a compelling story.
Are any of the characters based on real historical figures?
No, except for Henry Villard. Villard was the president of the board of the Northern Pacific in 1882. He makes a couple of cameo appearances in the book, but the main characters are fictional.
What do you hope readers will learn or take away from your book?
Beyond the Sand Creek Bridge is an exploration of the limits of racial intolerance and injustice, particularly (and ultimately) in the criminal trial setting. I’m interested in the role “sameness awareness” plays in defining those limits. By sameness awareness, I mean an active awareness and deliberation on those things we all share. Jason McQuade develops this point in his closing argument near the end of the book.
Are you working on any new writing projects?
My second novel, Dimension M, will be out later in 2013. Two activists are arrested after breaking into a school in Uzbekistan. Unbeknownst to them, the school is the repository for a World War I-era diary that has been locked away under a secret treaty obligation for 200 years. The diary — an exposé on the Armenian genocide — is missing. Turkey and its allies want it back, while other interests around the world, including Armenian Relief, are mobilized to find it and make its contents public. Suffice it to say, people on both sides of the question are willing to kill to get their way.
What advice do you have for lawyers who want to pursue creative writing in their free time?
I can pass on what I’ve learned from others:
- Find your voice.
- Tell an interesting story.
- On the practical side, prioritize writing time. Give it at least a half-hour a day. Develop a routine and stick with it.
- Read only good writers — I can’t emphasize that enough. Don’t read junk.
- Keep a notebook of words, phrases, and sentences that appeal to your literary side. This way, you’ll learn to emulate the best writers. Journaling is always good.
- Join a writers’ group.
- Read books about writing. If you’re interested in writing a novel, Jeff Gerke’s The First 50 Pages is a good place to start.
- Be kind to yourself and don’t listen to your negative voice. (It took me 28 years to slay that dragon. Try to beat my record!)