122 Rules by Deek Rhew

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Getting to Know Author Hank Buchmann

I have had the great privilege of getting to know Hank Buchmann over the last couple of months. He is Vietnam veteran, husband, founder of the literary magazine Crab Creek Review, poet, former journalist, and author of two published books: DeadWoman Creek (under the name Buck Edwards) and TheSteady Running of the Hour. A very accomplished man with a colorful and interesting history.

Normally when I interview an author, I review their work, blogs, Twitter posts, and other interviews then create a list of questions based on what I’ve learned. Hank is different. First of all, he used to be a journalist and has interviewed people such as Joe Namath, yes THE Joe Namath, and he was much more casual about the process. So instead, our interview was less formal and more a long, delightful conversation held over email.

What follows are excerpts with me asking questions, some of which I made up here to provide context, and his always interesting replies. I saw no reason to reword anything he wrote, because A) I couldn’t possibly say it any better B) Hank has a very distinct voice that would have gotten lost if I had simply reported what he said.

So, without further ado, take it away, Hank!

You published Dead Woman Creek under the name Buck Edwards. The Steady Running of the Hour and Twitter both list you as E. Hank Buchmann. Tell us what you prefer to go by.
I go by Hank. My full name, Edward Henry Buchmann, Jr. is filled with family history, but I was Hank way before I could have eaten solid food. Besides, Hank Williams was all the rage at the time, and Henry (Hank) Fonda filled the silver screen. I adopted the E. Hank because it reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald...and, to a lesser extent, W. Somerset Maughm.

So, Hank is good.

You are a veteran. First of all, THANK YOU for your service to our country! Second, tell me about your time in the military.
I’m an old timer that isn’t old, if that makes sense. I feel younger now than I did at many times in my life. I was drafted in the summer of 1968. I had been in college, majoring in journalism, but dropped out (or flunked out, I forget which) and they nabbed me. Rather than be a grunt for two years, I took the Army’s application tests for journalism and passed with flying colors. So I enlisted for three years, went to the Defense Information School in Indiana after basic, and became a military journalist.

My first hitch was in Aschaffenburg, Germany, where I started up a battalion newspaper. But ten months later I was levied to Vietnam, where I served as a combat correspondent. Vietnam was, and remains, a watermark in my life. I wrote a lot of feature stories there, about young men and their heroics. My very first story made the Stars & Stripes Pacific Edition, front page, no less, about a medevac pilot that got shot down three times in 24 hours, losing three separate choppers. The story was picked up by the wire services and it made a New York newspaper, among others. An impressive start. 

A critical part of my job, besides writing my own stories, was escorting civilian journalists out on their own story-searches. I grew to dislike most of them (ABC, NBC, CBS, Time & Newsweek) because of their preconceived conclusions about the war. (That is a very long story. Maybe over a beer sometime.) I had one, I’ll call it an honor, of escorting Henri Huit, part French, part Asian, photographer, a Pulitzer winner, his photos still among the archives. He was brilliant, and he and I and some reporter from NY were following some troops in the lowlands and started taking some small arms fire. Huit, unafraid, or stupid, who knows, was snapping photos. When we got back to Camp Evans we broke out the vodka and celebrated our success at staying alive. Henri Huit was killed about two months later.

While in Vietnam, my sister sent me a copy of The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. I treasure it still. It was my launching pad for my poetry writing. I have never been too ambitious about getting my work published in the quarterlies, though I have in a few, but it comes upon me sometimes like a preying puma.

 After the war I could have written a resume that would have had me working for a whole slew of newspapers, but I was a bitter guy by then, angry at how veterans were treated by the country at large, and I blamed the media for that. Objectivity died during the Vietnam war, and it remains dead to this day.

Tell me about interviewing Joe Namath and public speaking
Joe Namath, who was doing Lil’ Abner on stage, and even though there was a large group of big-shot journalists there, Joe kept turning to me because I asked more interesting questions. Plus, I had read his book, something the other guys hadn’t done. I came prepared.

Well, as you might expect, Namath had a co-writer [for his book], but the stories, and obviously the life, was his own. What really perked him up in the interview was when I mentioned his love of marlin fishing in the Gulf. After that, he belonged to me.

As for myself, I have put out a couple of poetry chapbooks over the years. And I’ve addressed entire student bodies on occasion for assemblies, usually connected to Veterans Day. And, I’ve read before some fun crowds, several times at the University of Washington for crowds of 100 or more. People in Seattle, and places like that, don’t think folks on the east side of the Cascades can even read, much less write. So it was fun to give them a ‘crash’ moment. All this leads to an interview from time to time.

Tell me about your books
Even though DeadWoman Creek is a western, it could pass for a Michael Connelly or Lee Child, simply because it tries to unravel a mystery, of sorts. It will be an uphill battle convincing people of that, and most of them (readers) won’t bother investigating. The most obvious difference between DWC and other westerns that l have read, is that I deal in the human condition. People get killed in westerns, but very few writers bother to follow the trail of pain felt by those affected. Even Boone Crowe, my hero, is haunted by his past, and I try hard to express the humanness of him, and all other characters.

As you read through DWC, think Kevin Costner. If you’ve never watched his Open Range, with Robert Duvall, then  put it on your movie list. I’ve been to Deadwood, SD a couple of times, and eaten at his casino/restaurant where he has the costumes from practically all his movies, framed and hanging around the walls. I think Costner could pull off Boone Crowe.

My other book, The Steady Running of the Hour, (a line from WWI poet, Wilfred Owen) is purely literary. Though Edmund Ellicott is 92 years old in the telling, there is a deeper side to his personality. And to his life.  As for the story, there are no chapters, only the randomness of a life told. And, I might add, the strange and dangerous characters that join his story, long after the war.

I am careful to make it appealing to a broad audience, by giving a 16 year old high school girl a strong supporting role. Good wins over evil, but evil, in this case, is in the reader’s face, once exposed.

Follow up to Dead Woman Creek?
I just killed off one of the bad guys and I didn’t want the moment to pass without full justice. I’m working on the second installment to my Boone Crowe books, Showdown in the Bear Grass, which I hope to have ready for Kindle in the fall.
What prepared you to be a writer?
I read a lot of books, but that’s because I consider reading my ‘school.’ I hope I don’t ever offend anyone, but college, when I came home, never worked for me. So I considered every book I read a ‘class,’ and I have learned more about writing there than sitting in some MFA program and listing to a professor who has his own built-in notions about what writing is all about. It’s okay for some writers, but not me. And I think I’ve fared pretty well.

I’ve been writing since the 7th grade, when my story was voted the scariest Halloween story by my classmates. The mood was set...lights were out...and that was a good thing because I was a trembling idiot in those day. Had the lights been on I probably would have fainted.

I have a good handful of manuscripts that, once polished, could add to my list on Kindle. Some are YA, as I spent 20 years working in middle schools. (Hope you won’t be disappointed, but I was a custodian, not a teacher, though teachers had me teaching poetry and creative writing to their students too many times to count. Their Masters degrees in English didn’t cover what I had learned by reading and writing, and they knew it. I also, for years, taught creative writing to adults in evening classes at the local college.) Besides, my wife is a teacher (Seventh-grade medieval history.) I know that if I had been a teacher, I would never have had time to write.
My friend, Tim Coder, who was a fellow combat correspondent with me in Vietnam, and who certainly had many more close-calls than I did, was a big help in encouraging me to jump into the Kindle thing. His book, WarWithout End, Amen, is excellent, and certainly intense. Probably not for everybody. But my review of it appears on Amazon under Sir Henry. I don’t say this so you’ll buy it, only that our wartime friendship has endured.

Secondly, as a custodian, it paid the bills. I was raising my boys pretty much single-handedly, so it became a matter of “bird in hand...” I was a mystery even to my employers, especially when they were aware of my genuine friendship with the students, and my ability to jump-start their writing through my somewhat ‘unorthodox’ methods. On my last day working, before my retirement from the school district in February, I was interviewed by a local online newspaper.

Hank’s interview is a fantastic view into the influences he had on the kids 
View the video of Hank’s retirement interview.
NOTE: For whatever reason the video has been marked as private. We are looking into it.

Who are your writing influences?
Thinking about major influences as an emerging writer, I’d have to say that I’ve read everything Hemingway has written. Becky and l visited Piggott, Arkansas in 2010, where Hem lived with his second wife, Pauline, in her parent’s house. The parents renovated the barn as a writing room for Hem, and so today both the house and barn are mini-museums. Nothing else in Piggott but a Sonic hotdog joint. Anyway, I took pleasure in knowing more about Hem’s works than the guide did, which she accepted graciously.

Having said that, I did not like everything he wrote, but my favorites were Islands in the StreamThe Green Hills of Africa; and A Moveable Feast. Nor did I like his means of exiting this life. To say he was all about ego would be an understatement. His longtime feud/friendship with Scott Fitzgerald was based partly on jealousy. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby cannot be touched...an utter masterpiece. No movie, not even Leo’s new one, can ever replace those words on the page.

As a kid, growing up on the farm, I became entranced with the images that book titles provided. Zane Grey’s books did this a lot. Titles like The Light of Western Stars; Raiders of Spanish Peaks; and even Riders of the Purple Sage, filled my head with almost speechless wonder. I was actually an adult before I read any of them, and yet the wonder was still there.

I keep a list of books that I count as favorites, as time goes by. And the order often is loose and ever changing, but four books always seem to rise to the top. They are: The Eighth Day, by Thornton Wilder; The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje; The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy; and Affliction, Russell Banks. A book that sparked my interest in WWI is W. Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge. Later, another great WWI novel was The Very Long Engagement, by Sebastein Japrisot.

One rainy day when I was about 10 or 11, I made the fatal mistake of telling my mom I was bored. I literally lived outside, from dawn to dark, but that hard rain kept me in. “Bored, huh. Well,” she said, “you haven’t even touched those books I bought you for Christmas.” So, reluctantly at first, I opened The Tower Treasure, the first installment of the Hardy Boys. I devoured it, of course, and before I finally outgrew them, I had read about fifteen.

As a side-note, and one I am proud to brag-up (mainly because she never brags) is that I am married to a reading wife. I am pleased to say that she has read all 21 books in Patrick O’Brian’s Master & Commander set. A major undertaking for a working teacher. And the last time we passed through the Dakota’s, she got onto a Willa Cather kick, and didn’t stop till she’d read seven of her novels, pretty much in a bunch.

Talk to me about your writing
Though I cannot read Stephen King (I’ve tried) I did slurp down his On Writing like good soup. In fact, I used many excerpts from it in my adult night classes. I tried [to outline] a time or two in the early years, but you have it right. Give ownership to the story. One of my own lines, which I should have copyrighted (ha) and that I try to hammer into my student’s heads is this--Writing creatively isn’t something you make happen, it’s something you let happen.

Writer’s block has never visited me. I attribute it to two things. 1. I am usually working on more than one thing at a time. So if one piece begins to flounder for a spell, I just turn my attention to one of my other projects. 2. I used to walk four miles a day (I wish I still did) and I would listen to my favorites on my Walkman, George Winston, Enya, Sarah Brightman, Michael W. Smith, etc. and low and behold, the music would act like a soundtrack to the book I am writing, and the scenes suddenly appeared in my head.  

I was in the Bluebird reading group in 1st grade, not the Hawks or Eagles. And I was pigeon-holed most of my school years. When I was a sophomore in high school they said I wasn’t reading at grade-level either and so they put me in a speed-reading classes. (Dumb) Pretty soon I was reading faster, but I couldn’t remember Jack about what I had read. I hated it. It never dawned on me until I was in Vietnam, where I stumbled onto a room full of paperback books that the Red Cross or somebody furnished the troops. I got out a bookmark and purposely began slowing myself down, reading every word on every line. It was the best thing that I ever did in regards to my reading habits. As a writer, I wanted to know every single word that the author used to make his story what it was. Hence, ‘every-book-a-class’. Even now my family and friends are amazed at how I can remember the story lines of books I read 40 years ago.

Funny, the same thing happened to my youngest son, Alex, when he was in high school. Some dopey teacher got it into her head that he wasn’t reading fast enough. So she put him in a special class. So one day Alex took his reading log in to show this new teacher. (I’ve always kept a reading log for my kids, as well as myself, and for my wife.) It was rather humiliating for the teacher, because Alex was reading books well beyond what even the teacher was reading. By the time he was a freshman he had already read Girl Interrupted; Finding Forester; Tarzan, the Epic Adventures; Romeo and Juliet; and Jaws. The teacher was reading a Danielle Steel novel.  He hated Alex after that. So...speed does not a reader make.

Talk to me about writing westerns
My initial stab at writing westerns has a rather painful beginning. Ten years or so ago I was working on my first western, The Widow Makers, which was, I felt, superb. But like a computer rookie, I did not print a hard copy as I went. One day, while I was working on it, I pressed a key and my hard-drive simply disintegrated. Fried like a pork rind. It was irretrievable. (I am haunted by that still.) Will I rewrite it again someday. I probably will. But I waited quite a while before starting DWC. Well-developed characters do much of the writing for us. And so, as you have said, from the opening pages, it was just me following Boone’s trail.

Zane Grey is considered today to be too romantic. But of course, nobody bothers to wonder why. He was an easterner, from Pennsylvania (a dentist, if you can believe it) and he headed out west to see the country and ended up writing about it in novels. But his audience was fellow easterners, folks who may never travel out west. And the damsel in distress was very apropos at the time, so by the standards of the early 1920’s, he wasn’t considered overly romantic, he was just considered ‘damn good’. And he did the west great justice in his vivid descriptions of the wild country of Nevada, Utah and Arizona. (In fact, in a couple of weeks Becky and I will be traveling to the Grand Canyon via California and Nevada, and then northward, home, through Utah. So it was Becky’s suggestion that my travel book should be a Zane Grey. I readily agreed. (Checking my log, I see I’ve read sixteen Grey’s.)

Alan LeMay's excellent book, The Searchers, was also a huge influence. I love the John Wayne movie of it, even though it ends differently than the book. The book, as you might expect, is better. Conrad Richter’s The Sea of Grass also gave me inspiration, probably without knowing it at the time.

My two favorite Hardy Boys were The Missing Chums, and The Mystery of the Chinese Junk. Following close behind is The House on the Cliff.

Tell me about the literary magazine you helped found 
The literary magazine was (is) Crab Creek Review, and a gal named Linda Clifton had the idea and wanted me to help her. This back in the early 80’s. When we first started it we read grocery sacks full of poems submitted by people all over the country. We worked together on this for a couple of years, then she moved from Grant County to Seattle, to finish her masters at the UW. That was the end of my immediate involvement. Over the years Clifton decided to give it up and so turned over the whole operation to some other folks. Though they have long ago detached themselves from either Clifton or myself, I give them unwanted reminders from time to time. To my knowledge, it is still up and running, though I have lost interest in most of what they published the last few years. A nice literary newspaper-type magazine, The Bellowing Ark (a line from Dylan Thomas) is a fine outfit in the Seattle area and they have published several of my short stories and a nice bunch of poems over the years.

Thank you for stopping in and sharing with us, Hank!

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