Highlights of my interview on Associated Content, conducted by Alexis Cairns. <!--break--> The complete interview may be viewed here.
To The Last Drop imagines a present-day war over water rights between Texas and New Mexico. The Texas State Guard invades and occupies New Mexico and provokes an increasingly violent New Mexican insurgency. How did that idea come about?
I live in a former coal-mining town in New Mexico, and the diminished quantity and quality of water confronts me every day. Quantity, because it's the high desert near Santa Fe which has an enormous demand for a very limited supply. Quality, because the water is contaminated with heavy metals, coal, sulfur gas-it reeks of rotten eggs and isn't fit for drinking.
That pointed me toward the importance of water. The war aspect was inspired by the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. In watching the footage of our soldiers, I was struck by how similar Afghanistan's mountainous terrain is to New Mexico's. It certainly looked like a place where the defender has an enormous advantage, and I imagined that New Mexicans would fight with the same tactics as the mujahideen.
So I had the primacy of water in one hand and the imagery of a dirty guerilla war in the other. I simply made mud.
What did your preparation for writing the book involve?
I prepared for the book by grinding out nine months of research before I started the first draft. I continued to do research while I was writing, as gaping holes in my knowledge opened up.
My main areas of research were water rights, hydrology, biology, military history and theory, Southwest history, Afghani history and some computer science. My knowledge had to quickly broaden; limits of my time are responsible for the shallowness of my understanding. To protect me from my ignorance, expert readers helped me out enormously, particularly in the legal and military areas.
The great majority of my research was done at the Santa Fe Public Library, supplemented by the internet. My research time included more immediately pleasurable activities such as inventing characters and shooting guns.
Shooting guns, indeed. New Mexico, like most of the Western states, embraces the Second Amendment. It's a well-armed populace with a fair distrust of government. That would contribute to this territory being difficult to occupy-just like Afghanistan.
So as part of my research, I got the feel of the guns I had to write about. I'm not a gun-blazing man by nature.
You are a published haiku poet. When and how did your interest in haiku develop?
J. D. Salinger introduced me to haiku in his brilliant Seymour: An Introduction when I was in high school. Investigating, I came across a haiku that made me see and feel poetry so clearly and powerfully. Nothing in literature had ever done that before. It was this poem, by Basho:
So cold are the waves
the rocking gull can scarcely
fold itself to sleep
It hit me with great force. Nothing extra, nothing missing, and absolutely true and sincere. I've been writing haiku for many years now, trying to abide. Here's one I wrote last year visiting my little brother in Japan:
Some unnamed scent,
some unseen bird's song
haunt this cool green bamboo forest