Sundeen: Yeah. The first two were very personal and idiosyncratic and hardly edited at all. Neither of them sold much. No awards. I was still broke and felt like I had sung my song. But I still wanted to keep writing, but not the same style of book… BMR: Was there an emotional toll? Like post-publication depression or… Sundeen: Yeah, totally. I mean, The Making of Toro was almost about the heart break of the first book. It’s hard to spend all this time putting your soul into these books and they are ignored. I decided to try my hand at journalism. I started writing for Outside Magazine, The New York Times, and National Geographic. At the same time, I wrote a very conventional novel. I spent three or four years on it. I sent it out, but the responses were lukewarm. I probably could have gotten it published but it wasn’t going to help my career. I was desperate. I just put it away. BMR: What was it about? Sundeen: A multi-generational family thing in which the main character was out in Utah hunting bones. Anyways… BMR: Let’s talk about the shift to journalism. Was it hard? Sundeen: Yes. But because I had two books out, I could skip straight to features. I loved getting paid to travel and get out of house. But still, nothing was winning awards or giving me the breakthrough I was looking for… I’d almost given up on that novel when my agent called about a ghost writing job for the captain on The Deadliest Catch. I wrote that book on spec—on contract—got paid. It was basically for fans, but I felt like it was better than the novel, just in terms of achieving what it was trying to achieve. Maybe not a literary masterpiece, but a good book about a good person; very well-structured. It had no unrealistic ambitions. Basically, it tells the guy’s story, and it was a New York Times best-seller. BMR: Ghostwriting is just a flat fee? Sundeen: No there are percentages. It was enough to live off for a year. So then, in 2009, I had the glossy publications and a commercial success, and they called me to write about this guy living in a cave without money in Moab. And it turns out, I knew the guy. That felt more personal and innovative than the magazine work, less sarcastic and smart-assy than my first two books. I hit my stride and felt like I had done something right. It was weird. I had done all this striving to succeed, but the reason that book succeeded was because of all the years I spent living in my car being the dropout. Those years allowed me to really understand the guy more than any New York magazine writer anyway. I don’t think anyone else could have written that book the way I did. BMR: Did doing justice to the subject free you from doubts and insecurities? Sundeen: I think the early literary experiments helped me explain the lives of people living radical experimental lives.
Blue Mesa Review | 28
Published on Dec 5, 2017