Chuck Greaves/C. Joseph Greaves won SouthWest Writers’ Storyteller Award in 2010 for his debut novel Hush Money (Minotaur, 2012), which became a finalist for the Shamus, Lefty, Audie, Reviewers’ Choice, and New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House Press, 2019) is his sixth novel. Chuck is also the book critic for the Four Corners Free Press newspaper in southwestern Colorado, where he lives and writes. You’ll find him at ChuckGreaves.com and on Facebook. Read his 2016 SWW interview to find out more about Chuck and his writing.
What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Church of the Graveyard Saints?
That it’s a compelling read! I’ve likened it to a Shakespearean tragedy in which the Capulets of resource extraction and the Montagues of environmental conservation square off in the background while an intensely personal love story plays out in the foreground. It should appeal to readers who enjoy a little romance with their adventure, and a dash of real-world relevance in their otherwise escapist fiction.
Tell us about your main characters.
Addie Decker is a 23-year-old grad student at UCLA who, thanks to a difficult father and a bad breakup with her boyfriend, left her family’s ranch in the Four Corners vowing never to return. Only now, five years later, she does return in the company of her new beau (who’s also her faculty adviser) to combat the expansion of gas drilling in and around the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument which adjoins the family ranch, only to find that her father welcomes the gas rigs and her old boyfriend, newly divorced, works on one. The story is told from four points of view—those of Addie, her father, her new beau, and her old boyfriend. Each has a very different view on the subject of resource extraction, and that frisson, together with the incipient love triangle, propels the story forward.
How did you come up with the title?
I’ve been asked the question, “What does the title mean?” at virtually every book signing I’ve done, and my answer in each case has been, “When you get to the end, you’ll understand completely.”
How did the book come together?
At just over 70,000 words, this is the shortest of my six novels, and yet it took the longest—almost three years—to write. It’s also my first foray into purely commercial/literary fiction, which might explain the care I took to get everything right. I moved to the Four Corners from Santa Fe seven years ago, and I wanted to write a book that captured both the beauty of the region and the challenges facing those who live here, particularly the multi-generational farmers and ranchers struggling to eke a living out of this harsh high-desert environment. That setting—the red-rock canyon country of southwestern Colorado—is very much a fifth character in the novel.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I love writing fiction, so the creative process is always a thrill. What’s been particularly gratifying about this novel is that, while still in galleys, it was selected by six public libraries in the Four Corners region—those of Cortez, Dolores, Mancos, Montrose, and Ignacio (Colorado) and Moab (Utah) —to launch their inaugural “Four Corners/One Book” community-wide reading program. It was a tremendous honor, and I’ve been busy with kickoff events and public readings, all of which will culminate in January with a series of group discussions of the novel and the issues it raises. My favorite moment so far came when Karen Sheek, the mayor of Cortez, pulled me aside to say she both laughed and cried while reading Church of the Graveyard Saints. That’s something every novelist longs to hear.
Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for Church of the Graveyard Saints?
Unlike my historical novels Hard Twisted (2012) and Tom & Lucky (2015), both from Bloomsbury, Church of the Graveyard Saints didn’t involve a whole lot of research other than a generalized understanding of, and interest in, the environmental challenges facing the desert Southwest. The book is chock full of interesting tidbits in that regard. For example, did you know that the world’s human population in the year 1800 was one billion, and that by 1960 it was still only three billion? Today it’s approaching eight billion, and growing exponentially at a current rate of approximately a quarter-million people per day. Issues like that—population growth, public lands cattle grazing, oil and gas extraction, methane emissions—all get a passing mention without (I hope) interfering with the story.
What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I agree with whoever it was that said, “I only write when I’m inspired, but I make it a point to be inspired every morning at nine o’clock.” So yes, I’m fairly regimented, and I believe in visiting the manuscript every day, even if only to polish what I wrote the day before. I think the worst mistake a writer can make—particularly a new writer—is to put the story aside and hope for inspiration to come. For me, inspiration comes from putting words on paper and seeing where they lead.
Is there something you’d like to develop from material you haven’t been able to use?
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve finished every novel I’ve started and sold every novel I’ve finished. Next up for me is the fourth entry in my Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, which I plan to complete this winter. I just turned my short story “The Weight of a Feather”— which appears in SWW’s The Storyteller’s Anthology—into a one-act stage play that I hope to see performed next year, and I have another short story, “The DQ Rules,” scheduled to appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Lastly, I’m collaborating with a TV director on a possible cable series set here in the Southwest. So I’m always developing something, even if it’s just carpal tunnel syndrome.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.