Judith Clayton Van grew up on a horse ranch in Oregon, granddaughter to a famous U of O coach and cousin to the pioneers of the Pacific Northwest timber industry. She owned nightclubs, managed artists, promoted concerts, and exhibited paintings as a visual artist. She completed a BFA in Studio Arts, an MFA in Creative Writing, was a professor of English at Arizona State University, and a juried literary artist with the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Clayton Van served as fiction editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review and art editor of Superstition Review.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
Faster Horses is the first of a four-book Oregon series and I puzzled over titles for several years until I heard an old country song that I remembered from my childhood and which seemed to instantly fit. When I heard it, I knew. The second book, which I plan to release this fall, is titled Slower Dances—I’ll keep the last two titles as a surprise.
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
I adore my book cover! I spent hours dreaming about this story and knew what had to be there. I made a messy sketch and sent it to the Atmosphere artist who came back with several ideas. One fit perfectly! We did some tweaking, and I fretted over the typeface and distressed “pulp fiction” effect a bit, but very soon we had the final result and I could not be happier.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
The first book I remember, owned by my mother when she was a child, was titled Honey Bear. Written by Dixie Willson and illustrated by Maginel Wright Barney in 1923, it immediately captured my imagination and I begged to have it read over and over. That was how I learned to read, and then there was no stopping me. I read Little House on the Prairie series, all the Nancy Drew I could find, then began on family bookshelves: Dickens, Hardy, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Willa Cather, Joan Didion, Thomas Wolfe, Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster. Reading was what I did when I wasn’t out riding horses or learning to paint (inspired by the Honey Bear illustrations). The Honey Bear book set me on a lifelong path. It sits on top of my bookcase now.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
My most rewarding profession was that of student. If I hadn’t needed to earn a living, I would have taken another degree, and then another. The profound pleasure of knowledge!
What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?
Seeing my words printed on the page! It was thrilling. It seems obvious but for me it was profound.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
Faster Horses spans Annie’s life from age 4 to her 13th birthday. The soundtracks of the fifties and the birth of rock and roll! Great music as Annie’s adventures took her to rodeos, sophisticated horse show events, country dances, city dances, and later to jazz and rock and roll events. Since she is a dedicated dancer, it’s all there, from the Sons of the Pioneers to Jerry Lee Lewis.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
I hope the reader takes away Annie’s love of place and some appreciation of how place shapes character. I don’t envision my perfect reader. I prefer to believe that anyone who picks up Faster Horses will find something they respond to. It speaks of universal experience as well as to the individual.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I am working on the sequel to Faster Horses, my gardens both in Oregon and Arizona (ongoing), several portraits, and as always my constant education in literature.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
The Atmosphere team are kind, efficient, creative, and fun. I would tell other writers that even when you have such a great team behind you, and maybe because you have a great team behind you, the work is rigorous—but worth every effort.