A fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror as a kid, Owl Goingback was also a writer in his youth. But he took time away from writing when he enlisted in the Air Force. He’d begin scribing words years later after being encouraged to do so by his wife, and has been a professional writer since the 1980s. Crafting stories for various audiences and age groups, Goingback has been telling amazing tales which pull from his life, his Native American heritage, and his rich imagination. Goingback recently won two Bram Stoker Awards – one for his book Coyote Rage and the other being the Lifetime Achievement Award. Wanting to learn more about his latest novel Coyote Rage, I was able to talk to him about this project and his career.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Owl Goingback: I loved the science fiction stories of Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. They were my escape fiction, taking me to other worlds and other times. I was also a big fan of the darker tales of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Still am. As a matter of fact, I often return to the stories and writers I enjoyed growing up. A good story is timeless. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars in 1912, and the story still holds up today. I’ve read A Princess of Mars, and the rest of the books in his Martian series, at least three times.
Yanes: Prior to becoming a full-time writer, you served in the Air Force and owned a restaurant. Who do you think those experiences have helped you craft stories?
Owl Goingback: They say write about what you know, and my occupations prior to becoming a writer allowed me to travel the world and learn about other cultures. While in the military, I spent a lot of time in Europe and the Middle East. And when I owned a restaurant I got to talk with a lot of people, learning a great deal about regional history, culture, and folklore.
Yanes: Related to the previous question, when did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a professional writer? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Owl Goingback: I started writing while in middle school, trying to create the kind of stories that I loved to read. In high school, I was actually selling stories to other students for their English class. But I put aside all thoughts of writing when I joined the military. I was far too busy during those years, so writing was simply out of the question.
I didn’t think about writing again until four years after we opened our restaurant. One night after work, my wife and I watched a Stephen King interview. During the interview, she challenged me to take up writing again. The next day I sat down and put pen to paper, and have been writing ever since. I started out writing self-defense articles for martial arts magazines, then switched to fiction stories. Ten years after watching that interview, I was on the Bram Stoker Awards final ballot with Stephen King for best novel of the year.
Yanes: Given that you’ve been professionally writing since the 1980s, what do you feel has been the biggest shift in the publishing industry you’ve dealt with?
Owl Goingback: With self-publishing, print on demand, and numerous small press publishers, it’s probably easier than ever before for a writer to see their name in print. When I first started writing, self-publishing didn’t exist and there were very few places to sell short stories. It was almost impossible for a new writer to sell a short story to a magazine, so you had to break into the business by selling to anthologies. It was even harder to sell a novel to a publisher, almost impossible if you didn’t have an agent.
Yanes: Your most recent novel is Coyote Rage. What was the inspiration for this story?
Owl Goingback: I’ve always been fascinated with the Native American version of shape-shifters, and wanted to write a novel featuring a couple of them as main characters. I also wanted to include Coyote, the Trickster, who appears in a lot of tribal myths and legends. Coyote is a troublemaker in traditional stories, and often portrayed as evil, but there is something about him that you can’t help liking.
Yanes: When shaping Coyote Rage, were there specific Native American myths you felt influenced you the most?
Owl Goingback: In addition to the shape-shifter folklore, and Trickster stories, I was influenced by the Cherokee creation myths I heard as a child. In those stories, all the people and animals originally lived together in the sky world, called Galun’lati, but came down here when that world became too crowded. Imagining what the sky world looked like, and who might still live there, proved to be a lot of fun for me when writing Coyote Rage.
Yanes: While looking at Coyote Rage noticed how your sentences change in length depending on the moment. This got me wondering, how much thought do you give to structuring your stories? Are you an intense outliner or do you just type and see what comes out?
Owl Goingback: I don’t give a lot of thought to sentence structure, especially in the early stages. The first and second drafts are all about putting words on paper, trying to get the story out of my head and onto the printed page. I try not to think about anything that will stop the flow until I’m doing the final polish.
I only write an outline if an editor asks to see one, and I usually don’t create that until I have the first draft on paper. Once I have the first draft, and know the beginning, middle, and end of the story, then I will write an outline to send to the editor.
Yanes: As Coyote Rage evolved from just an idea to a completed book who were some characters who took on a life of their own?
Owl Goingback: Definitely Raven, Mouse, and Bonepicker. I had originally planned on them being only minor characters, but they took on a life of their own—especially Mouse. I’m looking forward to doing more with them, because their stories are far from over.
Yanes: When people finish reading Coyote Rage, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Owl Goingback: I hope they have as much fun with the story as I did. After all, the main purpose of writing a novel is to entertain, to allow the reader to put aside their problems, leave the mundane world, and go off on a little adventure. I want them to smile, laugh, fall in love with the characters, and look nervously over their shoulders during the scary parts. When finished, I hope they seek out more of my novels and join me on other journeys.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Owl Goingback: I just finished several short stories for anthologies, and I’m currently working on two more stand-alone novels and a sequel to Coyote Rage.