Erik Storey’s latest thriller gives nod to indigenous Ute
Editor’s note: Due to an editor’s error, LaReina Kalenian’s monthly books column didn’t appear as it should have in the Aug. 20 edition. So it is appearing here in advance of Erik Storey’s appearance Friday at Out West Books.
Erik Storey is a local author with an international audience.
After reading his latest thriller, “A Promise to Kill,” it is clear why he has developed such a following. Storey has conceived a novel with a driving plot that hooks the reader from the first page.
Although he has a wide audience, the book centers on local geography that will be familiar to many Western Slope readers.
Storey grew up on the Western Slope, spending summers on Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness, and he currently lives in Grand Junction. He is also a skilled marksman, a trait he shares with his protagonist, Clyde Barr.
Barr is winding his way through the desert of eastern Utah, trying to escape from the difficulties of his past and stay out of trouble. He comes upon an old Ute man, Bud, having a heart attack. His efforts to save Bud draw him into the wider Ute community of Wakara, which has been invaded by the Reapers, a vicious motorcycle gang.
While Bud recovers in the hospital, Barr helps out Bud’s daughter, Lawana, and grandson, Taylor, on their horse ranch. He is enraged and puzzled by the invasion of the Reapers. Barr isn’t the type of man to walk away from people in need, and he certainly isn’t a man to walk away from a fight.
What follows is a page-turning battle as the Utes try to save their town with Barr’s help. It’s part Old West shootout and part modern-day warfare.
LaReina Kalenian: The pace and action in “A Promise to Kill” is breakneck! I couldn’t read it too late into the evening or I wouldn’t go to sleep. Can you describe the process of writing something that is so fast-paced and action-packed?
Erik Storey: For this book, I first wrote a few dozen outlines, and my editor and I decided on the most interesting one. With a good outline done before hand, I could write much faster and tighter without wandering away from the story. Then later, I went back and did a lot of editing to make the pacing faster and the story tighter. Also, I really wanted to see how much action and adventure I could pack into a book, and just how fast I could set a pace and keep it going.
Kalenian: Your novel is dedicated to indigenous people and is set in an isolated, depressed town on the Ute reservation. It is clear your main character, Clyde Barr, has a great deal of respect for the Ute people. How did you develop your knowledge of the Ute and the living conditions in this particular type of reservation town?
Storey: I grew up rather close to the same reservation mentioned in the book. While the town in the book is fictional, the reservation and the conditions portrayed there are very real and much overlooked. During the planning phase for this book, I also visited the reservation as often as possible, maybe 20 times while researching. I wanted to get the details right and experience it as an outsider. Despite my immense respect for the Utes, I’ll never truly understand how hard it is for them today in a country that thinks they don’t exist except in history books.
Kalenian: The main antagonists of your novel are members of the Reapers, a vicious motorcycle gang. In the acknowledgments, you thank anonymous bikers for their help in explaining the inner workings of a motorcycle gang. How did you get this group to open up to you?
Storey: I’ve had friends since college who were club members in some rather notorious clubs. They never talked about specific activities within the club, but they loved talking about their bikes and their brothers and how the club was organized. I also spent a lot of time in a couple of “biker friendly” bars and had some great conversations over beer and bourbon. And, many years ago I accidentally attended the Laughlin River Run Rally. This was before they banned wearing colors and it got ugly. It was the first time I’d seen firsthand what a violent club could do.
Kalenian: Like many (maybe even most) successful authors, you had a lot of rejection before obtaining an agent and publishing the first Clyde Barr novel. How did you persevere during this time? Do you think it helped you develop your craft in any way?
Storey: I was rejected by almost every New York agency, and it wasn’t until I found Lee Child’s agent in London that I finally found representation. After that, there were even more rejections by publishers until we finally found a wonderful editor at Scribner who believed I had promise. There were over 70 rejections before the book went into production. That said, I think the key to perseverance is stubbornness. If you put your head down and keep working, keep making it better, keep trying to get better, then good things can happen.
Kalenian: Some people dream of being writers their entire lives, while others only discover the desire later in life. What is your history as a writer? Do you hope to publish other types of fiction or non-fiction?
Storey: I started out as an obsessive reader. I haunted libraries and bookstores. Most of the people that worked in those places still know me by name. Then, when I started wandering around, I read every book that anyone left in the bunkhouse, or in the hostel, or in a trading rack in the general store. I wrote almost daily in journals, and it was that discipline that helped me when I ran out of books I really liked to read and decided to write my own. I don’t have any want to write non-fiction other than small articles, and the only other fiction I would write would happen only if the Clyde Barr books stopped.
Kalenian: Can we look forward to another Clyde Barr novel?
Storey: I’m writing one right now. I sincerely hope that I can keep this series going for as long as possible, but it ultimately depends on the readers. If they don’t like the books, and don’t like Clyde, then I’ll have to try something new.