OIB: I’m interested in the many vocations, or avocations, you’ve had over the years. Could you speak about some of those?
Bob Bogle: A lot of people pursue a number of different paths in life. Mine may be more unusual than those of some people because of my technical background. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Arizona I was a biology major. I was a son of the Space Age, you see, and back then there was a kind of unvoiced pressure on you to go into the sciences or engineering. So as a freshman I had something of a crisis. Should I remain in science, or should I change my major to English, or to creative writing? I stressed over this for about a week before deciding it would be easier to stay in science and teach myself how to write fiction than vice versa. I’ve more or less been wondering whether I made the better choice ever since. I studied oceanography briefly in graduate school, and then later I unexpectedly became very interested in medicine. That kept me away from writing for a long time. But once I got back to it I started writing seriously, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
OIB: How much do you write a day?
Bob Bogle: It depends on the day. Basically I’m obsessed with writing. I think if you’re obsessive about it you might not succeed, but if you’re not obsessive about it you almost certainly won’t succeed. It’s the difference between writing because you want to and because you have to. I don’t have a set schedule for writing or a word count I try to hit every day. But I do try to write every day. When I’m really on a roll I’m dreaming about whatever it is I’m writing about. And when I wake up, before I get up, I try to think clearly about what I’m going to write about that day. It’s just what I do. Every writer has his or her own method. I think writing well is the hardest thing I know something about. I find it much more difficult to write well than to perform any of the technical tasks, or the scientific tasks, say, that fill up my résumé.
OIB: How’d you become so interested in the South?
Bob Bogle: Accidentally. I don’t have a lot of family from the South, or a lot of family history from the South. What family connections I have mostly involve Northerners who fought against the South. I’m not a Southern writer. I’m a Western writer who’s writing about the South. I’d barely ever been in the South at all and I was going to make a big trip through the region. I knew before the trip that I would turn it into a novel, and while I was on the road I tried to be as completely attentive to everything as possible. Memphis Blues Again mostly follows the itinerary of the road trip that I made. I’ve tried to liven things up by inflating historical characters, trying to bring the past to life. I’d never been particularly interested in the Civil War before that trip, either. But I knew a little family history, and I knew I could combine it with the trip. That’s how it all came about. And now of course I understand that it’s impossible to have an understanding of American history, or of current events, without a strong appreciation for and understanding of the South, past and present. Not that I claim to be an authority. But I keep on learning.
OIB: The structure of Memphis Blues Again is fragmented, with adjacent scenes jumping around in time and place.
Bob Bogle: Usually jumping around more in time than in space. Yes, it can seem incoherent. It takes a while for the reader to be able to start pulling the threads together. In part the reader has to play detective, to try to figure out how the pieces fit together. We have all this history seen through the eyes of a host of witnesses and it’s all been cut up with a jigsaw. Every witness has his own agenda, and some are less reliable witnesses than others. And some of the jigsaw pieces are missing. All that said, I assure you this is one coherent story – one massive, jumbled, coherent story. Which is the way we learn about history anyway. Or about anything in life. A dribble of information here, a rumor there, an overheard conversation and whatnot. That’s all. I’m just telling the story the same way that most stories come to us, although not the way most novels come to us, I agree.
OIB: Ouroborous Independent Books is serializing the novel now. The first installment is coming out as we’re conducting this interview. How long is the first installment?
Bob Bogle: About 66,000 words.
OIB: Some complete novels are that long.
Bob Bogle: Some short novels are. This first episode is about the same length as The Sun Also Rises. War and Peace is close to 600,000 words long. About ten times as long. The length of a novel can vary quite a lot.
OIB: But I gather Memphis Blues Again still has many installments to go.
Bob Bogle: I think that’s safe to say. I’m working on them. Actually I’ve written the whole book in first-draft form. But now I’m polishing it up for the serialization.
OIB: And we’ll be publishing it as new installments become available.
Bob Bogle: I certainly hope so. And I’m grateful for it.