By Emily Mellentine, Kristen Fuhs Wells Communications Intern
We recently spoke with Larry D. Sweazy, author of Winter Seeks Out the Lonely: A Sonny Burton Novel, featured on our 2022 shortlist in the Genre category. Born and raised in Anderson, Indiana, Sweazy is a multiple-award-winning, critically acclaimed author of 19 novels and 39 short stories. He has served on the faculty and board of directors for the Midwest Writers Workshop and the faculty for the Indiana Writers Center and teaches writing workshops in Indiana and around the country. Larry lives with his wife, Rose, in Noblesville, Indiana, and is hard at work on his next writing project. More information can be found at www.larrydsweazy.com.
How do your books come to life?
SWEAZY: Most of my books are historical fiction, so I’m usually interested in exploring how a character survives and overcomes life’s challenges in a specific time period. My Westerns are set in the mid-to-late 1870s, and I wanted to explore how a widowed, emotionally wounded man (Josiah Wolfe) could raise a child in the 1870s and continue to do his work as a Texas Ranger. The Sonny Burton series (including the third book, Winter Seeks Out the Lonely) is set during the Great Depression, and in that series, I discovered a man facing retirement who is forced to live the rest of his life as an amputee. I wondered, could a man in the late stages of life who has suffered a huge loss find fulfillment and love in his life when the world all around him is barren and teetering on disaster, too? The Marjorie Trumaine Mysteries are set in the early 1960s, and I wanted to learn how an independent woman gets her voice heard in a male-dominated world. In the See Also books, Marjorie is forced to make everyday decisions when her husband is paralyzed after a hunting accident, using her own special detection and organizational talents (back-of-the-book-indexing) to help solve a murder in a rural farming community, all the while battling to be noticed. If these were modern stories set in 2023 America, the books would be completely different. Time and setting informed the characters in my books. The simple answer to this question is that my books start with a question about a character’s personal growth at a specific time in history.
Where do you find inspiration?
SWEAZY: Inspiration usually finds me at work. I’ve always taken a blue-collar approach to writing. Show up every day, do the best I can, and let the cards fall where they may. The best ideas I’ve had have usually come to me when my butt was in the chair, writing or staring out the window (which qualifies as work in my house). Or walking the dog. Or mowing the yard. If I go looking for inspiration, I can never find it. If you wait for inspiration, it never comes.
From all the writing you’ve done, what are the three most interesting things you’ve learned about the process or about yourself?
SWEAZY: 1. The only thing I can control is my writing. Bestsellers, awards, movie deals, and the rest of the “Big Dream” stuff are dependent on luck, the right place, right time encounters, and the whims and fickleness of what’s popular at the moment. I try to be a little better writer today than I was yesterday. That’s all I can do. That’s all I can control, what goes on the page.
2. Rejection is not personal. Publishing is a business, and the reasons that publishers say yes or no are based on a lot of things: business environment; similar projects; low sales expectations, etc. You name it. But rejection is not based on who or what I am as a person.
3. I’m not a quitter. To be honest, I was a poor student who wasn’t really interested in academics or succeeding in high school or college. I didn’t apply for myself in my early life for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I didn’t believe in myself, and I had few people who believed in me. The resilience, persistence, and dedication needed to be a writer, an artist of any kind didn’t kick in until I was in my mid-twenties, when I was out on my own for almost ten years (and after I married my wife who believed/believes that I can do more than I think can). I worked a lot of jobs and bounced around, quit a lot of things until I devoted myself to becoming a writer. There have been a million reasons to quit writing since, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop.
How does talking to other writers and being a part of a community help you grow?
SWEAZY: Writing is one of the loneliest professions there is. To write well, a writer must spend most of their time during the day and night writing or reading. To be around other humans who experience the same isolation, frustrations, fears, and aspirations is necessary. Writing conferences, workshops, and genre conventions have been an important part of my growth as a writer, and as a human being. I’ve made lifelong friendships with other writers, built a support network for research, complained, told bad jokes and celebrated big and little victories. Being around other writers is a lifeboat that allows you to see that the possibilities of living a successful creative life can be achieved.
Who are your favorite Indiana authors?
SWEAZY: That’s a long list, but here are a few: Rachel Peden, Gene Stratton Porter, Alan Lemay, Rex Stout, Kurt Vonnegut and James Alexander Thom come immediately to mind. Add more modern writers to that list, and you have Terrence Faherty, Michael Lewin, Lori Rader-Day, John Green and John R. Riggs, and you have a start of my favorites. I could add a hundred more names.
What advice would you give to other writers?
SWEAZY: Writers write no matter how hard the rejection is to take, how impossible the “Big Dream” may seem when no one believes in you, when there is nothing left to give, when the words have disappeared. Nothing can stop you from writing — and it shouldn’t — if you really are a writer. Make sure and give yourself a little time every day to be a writer. Even if you only write one sentence, that’s writing. Then you can look in the mirror and see a real writer. You can believe in yourself when you tell the world that you’re a writer. When writers write, that’s the best kind of success there is because, without it, there is nothing to edit, nothing to publish, nothing to learn from; there’s only a blank page. Writers write. It’s that simple and that difficult. Writing has to be as necessary as breathing if you’re going to live the life as a writer you want to live.