Maximum Shelf author interview: Diane Les Becquets

Following yesterday’s review of Breaking Wild, here’s Diane Les Becquets: The Wilderness Within.

Diane Les Becquets is from Nashville, Tenn., and holds degrees from Auburn University and the University of Southern Maine. She has taught writing workshops across the country, and is now a professor at Southern New Hampshire University. In addition, she has worked as a medical journalist, an archeology assistant, a marketing consultant, a sand and gravel dispatcher, a copywriter and a lifeguard. She is a competitive archer, and enjoys bicycling, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, backpacking, competing in sprint triathlons and hiking in the woods with her Labrador, Lacey. Before moving to New Hampshire she lived in a small ranching town in northwestern Colorado for almost 14 years, raising her three sons. Prior to Breaking Wild, Les Becquets published three young adult novels: The Stones of Mourning Creek, Love, Cajun Style and Season of Ice.

Where did the plot concept come from? Did it have to be set in northwestern Colorado?

photo: Nathaniel Boesch

photo: Nathaniel Boesch

I love this question because it triggers so many unforgettable moments from the years I lived in Colorado. The idea for the plot first came to me one evening when I was bow hunting alone. I had ventured into an area called Cyclone Pass, way off the grid, and was bugling back and forth with an elk, following him deeper and deeper into the terrain. The land was steep and littered with deadfall. But then the sky darkened; dusk had passed, and I knew it was too late to take a shot. However, what I also realized was that I was lost. I had gotten so caught up in the adrenaline rush of the hunt that I had failed to keep track of my bearings. The cloud cover was thick, the temperatures cold, and rain began to fall. I went for my headlamp in my backpack, but soon discovered that either the batteries were dead or the bulb had burned out. Not only did I not have a cell phone with me (not even sure I owned one at that time), this was an area where there was no cell signal. Four or five hours later, I found my way back to the trail, and eventually was at my truck. On the drive home that night, I began to imagine a story about a female bow hunter who goes missing. I thought about what that could mean about her life metaphorically. I was at an impasse in my own life, and oftentimes I had that sinking feeling of being lost, of feeling totally confused at which direction to take. I still have the note a friend wrote to me during that time: Within yourself you hold the compass. Together we will choose the direction. The geography of Breaking Wild is a metaphor for these women’s lives.

I chose northwestern Colorado for several reasons. First, this was an area I had called home for almost 14 years, where I had raised my three sons. The land and the people of this part of the state are very distinct from other areas. In many ways this is the last of the true West. It is an area I have tremendous fondness for. But also, geographically, this area is fascinating. It contains what archeologists and geologists refer to as the “edge effect,” where the Great Plains meets the High Desert and the Rocky Mountains. The result is dramatic, with rock formations and crevasses and magnificent storms and winds. Breaking Wild is situated in the Canyon Pintada District, terrain that is not only rich in geological formations, but also in Native American artifacts. There are over 300 archeological sites in this expanse of land. To be immersed in that kind of spiritual geography–very simply, there is nothing like it.

What makes for a compelling protagonist?

This is a difficult question, and I don’t think there is one answer. For me, the protagonists whom I am the most compelled by are those characters whom I care about. They become real to me, as do their stories. My life becomes larger because they are in it. Their lives, their stories, who they are, inspire me in both big and small ways. No longer does the protagonist exist simply as a persona on a page, but the reading experience becomes personal; it becomes a relationship. Once that relationship has been established, I’m going to become completely invested in what happens to her, especially when I know she has something at risk. Have you ever found yourself reading a book or watching a film and praying for the character, literally sending up a little prayer, and then catching yourself and saying, “Wait a minute. What am I doing? This isn’t real”? I am guilty of this quite often and that is an enormous compliment to the artist.

I love the way you switch between Amy Raye’s and Pru’s perspectives. Why is only one of these written in the first person?

This is a question I’ll have to answer in retrospect, as it wasn’t a conscious decision. I believe Pru would be the most similar to me, and perhaps that is why her story is told in first person. But in retrospect, I can also say that Pru is a cause-and-effect person, which makes a first-person account all that more accessible. I felt as if I could inhabit Pru and write what she saw and understood. Amy Raye is much more complicated. I wrote to understand her. I was the observer as I was writing her story.

Do you have a favorite of your two female leads?

Because I identify the most with Pru, because I felt as though I already knew her story before I wrote it, I think Amy Raye would have to be my favorite. She was the fresh, new character for me to get to know. She’s completely flawed and vulnerable and unlikable in so many ways, and yet I am the most compelled by her because I want to know why she is the way she is. I remember my dean once telling me, “We admire a perfect woman. We love an imperfect one.” Amy Raye is so completely imperfect, so completely risky, that I adore her.

How was writing for adults different from your young adult novels?

I never thought of myself as a young adult writer. I simply wrote the stories that came to me. However, I believe the age of each of the protagonists had to do with different situations in my life, places where I was stuck emotionally. The novels were a way for me to work through those places and emerge on new ground. I used to tell people I wrote Love, Cajun Style while I was going through my divorce because I couldn’t afford therapy at the time; I wanted to write something funny because I wanted to make myself laugh. I wanted to feel better. Breaking Wild was a completely different experience for me. I wrote the majority of the novel after emerging from a long space of grief after the death of my husband. It was with this novel that something broke free. The process became a way of being, imaginative and prayerful, rather than a means to work through something and get to someplace else.

What’s next?

I spent this past spring in Montana and Washington conducting physical research for my next novel. As with Breaking Wild, it will be a story of psychological intrigue and suspense. It is also a love story, told from the point of view of a shy, yet strong, female character–a conservationist working in the wilderness, who in her 30s falls in love for the first time. Once again, I find myself intoxicated with the experience. I have so many more stories to write. It is the freest I have ever felt.

This interview originally ran on December 9, 2015 as a Shelf Awareness special issue. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

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