An Interview with David E. Hilton


Kings of Colorado
David E. Hilton

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and writing career?

Hi, my name is David E. Hilton. I was born in 1974, and grew up in West Texas. I was very sick as a kid-asthma-and my family moved to the region in an effort to help me simply breathe. For the most part – I’d say it worked. I loved growing up out there in the mountains, and still find much of my inspiration from my days spent goofing off with my friends. After high school – I wrote a bit in college, but just for fun. I didn’t begin writing short stories until several years afterwards, and even then, quickly realized writing is work, though it’s fun work! I honestly love getting caught up in writing a great scene just as much as I love getting lost in reading a good book.

What genre do you write?

I started out writing short stories almost exclusively, and because I grew up grabbing almost any horror novel I could get my hands on – most of my shorts matched that genre. I have some pieces still floating around in online purgatory – such as “The Hanging at Christmas Bridge,” found at both Pseudopod and The Harrow. I also wrote a little piece that I still love entitled, “Under the Chocolate Tree,” which was published as part of a vampire anthology – Nights of Blood 2.

And I tried to make this work in a novel, too. I wrote most of the thing, except for the ending, but between you, me, and everybody else – it stunk. So I set out to write something different, and more from the heart. What was born, and what I will most likely stick to, is definitely classified as Literary.

What work(s) are you best known for? Could you please tell us about them?

Kings of Colorado is my debut novel. It is the telling of William Sheppard’s youth spent at a juvenile reformatory ranch during the early 1960s. It’s a coming of age, loss of innocence story that revolves around the relationships he forges at the ranch, while struggling to endure the violence and cruelty brought on by the other juveniles, as well as the adults. It is book-ended by the current-aged Sheppard, and follows significant events that unfold after the retelling of his days on the prison ranch.

Can you tell us if you are working on a new project and what your goals for the future?

I’m currently in the process of writing a second novel, though it is not a direct follow-up to KINGS. All I can say now is that it is a character-driven story that, like Kings of Colorado, is gritty, but rewarding.

How did you start writing?

I was an avid reader as a child and teenager. The first notable things I wrote were essays for school history fairs that I’d enter each year in middle school. This led to other small pieces, as well as some creative writing in college. Afterwards, I began writing some short stories in attempts to get published-mostly small market horror magazines. When it came to writing KINGS, I reached back to several childhood memories, many involving my own circle of friends. Another inspiration was of my family always passing an old, beat up sign on our way up into the New Mexico mountains – it simply read: Boys Reformatory Ranch. I was always left wondering about that place and what it must be like for the kids there.

How do you write? (That is, where do you get your ideas, do you write in an office at home, do you write full time or do you have a fulltime job other than writing?)

I currently work fulltime for a state agency in Austin, Texas, and spend many of my evenings holed up in a coffee shop. I seldom write at home anymore; for some reason, I’m always more productive when I have an influx of caffeine raging through my body. I draw upon life’s experiences to fill in some of the pages in my stories and novels, and I sometimes draw upon the experiences of those around me.

Are there any particular authors who have inspired you in your own writing career?

Certainly – among the scores, Khaled Hosseini, Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, and John Irving to name just a few. I’ve always admired Lehane’s method of crafting real, gritty dialogue. I believe the dialogue in a novel is very much a part of the glue that holds the story along with the plot.

Do you attend workshops and seminars to hone your writing skills?

I personally do not. I’m a big believer that the best route to become a better writer is to be a better reader. Reading will have a direct affect on your writing, and any decent author will most likely tell you they read constantly. I think workshops and seminars are great places to establish connections and networks, but I don’t agree that it’s necessary for an author to attend them in order to improve their writing.

What themes do you pursue in your writing? What are your concerns?

Much of what I write tends to have dark tones intermixed with redeeming ones. I love salvation and redemption stories, but there’s no rule that says every book must have roses and daisies at the end. That said, I have to sometimes remind myself that I don’t want to cause the reader to put the book down and walk away, either!

What is the goal of your writing?

It’s a simple idea: to touch the reader, and to leave them wanting more. I think if a writer can accomplish these two things, they’ve done their job, and they’ve made it easier on themselves to do it again.

Do you have any useful tips you might offer other up-and-coming writers?

Read, read read! And then be diligent when it comes to the writing. You’ve got to put yourself in the chair consistently in order to find your groove.

Have you chosen to e-publish any of your work? Was there any particular reason for this and would you recommend e-publishing to other writers?

Kings of Colorado is indeed available for all e-readers. I think it’s a great idea if you can put your product out there on multiple platforms. You want readers to read your work, period. And whether it’s on paper or on a screen, well – it’s being read.

Have you won any awards for your work? If so, which ones?

I have enjoyed the honor of being named to Barnes & Noble’s Spring 2011 Discover Great New Writers program! I’m thrilled to be included with all the wonderful authors in the program, and still get goose bumps when I see something I created up there on the Discover shelf.

Have you had literary failures? What did you learn from them?

Oh yes! Too many to want to discuss. Besides a failed first attempt at writing a novel – I’ve had countless rejections with many of my short stories. To be a writer, one must have rhino-tough skin. Be prepared to hear that something you love, may in fact, be a stinker. But, hopefully, you’ll be able to find a way to fix it, make it work, or – if need be, put it aside, and create something better through the lessons you’ve learned.

What do you read?

I’m currently re-reading Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. I think it’s been ages since I’ve cracked it, and am falling in love all over again with Matheson. Before that it was Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Naseem Rakha’s The Crying Tree. I also am in love with the way Khaled Hosseini breathes life into the heart-tearing characters of A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Below is an excerpt from Kings of Colorado:

I grew up in Irish Chicago; Bridgeport, specifically. You learn a lot about life growing up in the South Side, and in the early sixties, I learned how to survive. I’ve tried hard to forget much of my early childhood, but I still remember the beatings. In fact, it’s harder for me to recall the times my old man was sober than to remember him drunk. Or with a belt in his hand and the stink of liquor on his breath. Straight whiskey was his usual, and to this day my stomach churns at the smell of it.

He was a short man. Broad in the shoulders and thick across the chest. His eyes were so dark the pupils almost blended into the irises. He had thick, strong arms, and rough hands. Me-I mostly inherited my mother’s features. Lean. Fair skinned. I even had her wavy hair. My father always called me names like sissy and queer, which I never understood; I loved to play ball in the street with my friends, and I thought Carrie Francello, the girl who lived across the hall, was the prettiest thing I ever laid eyes on. On most occasions, it took very little to provoke him-maybe I’d left a comic book on the floor, or spilled a glass of milk.

“Out, William!” he’d yell. “Out for your whippin’!” And Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you better believe if I didn’t go out and face him, the hell would be ten times worse.

On my tenth birthday, he broke my arm. My mother was out picking up my birthday cake from Gillpatrick’s, and Mrs. Francello found me crying under the stairs. She scooped me up in her arms and carried me four blocks to the doctor. It was an incredible act of kindness, but a socially bold move, nonetheless. Back then, it was taboo for people in my neighborhood to interfere in other people’s business.

My best friend back in those days Jimmy Curio. We weren’t blood brothers or anything stupid like that, but in all the vacant lot ballgames, I played second and he played short, and most every time I found myself in deep shit, he was usually right there with me. Sometimes I slept over at his place, when his parents weren’t fighting. He asked me one day how I could stand it, all the abuse from my old man. It’s funny, because I was so used to things at home, I didn’t know what he meant at first. He said if it were him, he’d have already run away. Or killed the bastard. He laughed when he said that, like maybe it was a joke or something. I got embarrassed and just changed the subject, asking him if he thought Carrie Francello would ever let me kiss her on the mouth. But what Jimmy said stuck in my head, kept me up most nights, wondering to God why I hadn’t done anything.

I think now a lot of it has to do with my mom. That sounds absurd, but it’s true. Back then, I couldn’t hardly swing a stick without wondering what she’d think. I know that makes it out like I was a momma’s kid-and I don’t know, maybe I was-but it was more than that. You see, without even meaning to, I’d fallen into a protective role with her. Often trying to save her from anything and everything, and to somehow salvage our family. For me, the constant struggle of my youth revolved around which inner emotion won out: the instinct to protect my mother, or the absolute terror of my old man. Too many times, fear prevailed.

Christmas Eve, 1962. I came home to the sound of her sobbing, crying out in a subdued voice. It came from down the hall, from the bedroom, and from the assault of liquor in the air, I knew Dad had come home early. Her words were muffled, like she was face-first into a pillow, but the closer I crept down the hallway, the more I caught. I heard my name. And in between all the no’s and the please’s, she cried something about me not seeing; something about waiting until I left. The door wasn’t even shut all the way, and I gave in to temptation, wanting to go a little farther, to see what he was doing to her.

Another sound. He’d hit her, and she’d cried out. I inched closer to the crack in the doorway, and leaned to see what was happening, to see if I could help. I caught site of his arm, coming down on her, striking once more. His other hand held a fistful of my mother’s hair. She was bleeding, pleading for him to stop. I was twelve, and felt as helpless as ever. I retreated to the family room, biting my lip and rubbing tears from my eyes. I went to the record player, set the needle on mom’s prized Bing Crosby holiday vinyl, and crouched to the floor beside the Christmas tree. The room was filled with the music of “Silent Night,” but I could still hear my father grunting, and my mother sobbing. It was quieter now, and I knew she was crying into the mattress, not wanting me to hear. I tried to drive it all from my mind, and heard the words of Jimmy Curio instead. How he’d have already run away . . . or maybe done something else.

Later that night, my mother avoided me. I went to bed early, but just before I turned out the light, she knocked on my door. I tried not to look at her, at the way her lip had split, the way the bruise on her eye was both purple and yellow. She kissed me on the forehead, and must have seen the look on my face. “He’s a good man, William. It was . . . my fault.”

I closed my eyes, and pretended she hadn’t come in at all. I promised myself that night I would protect her if she wouldn’t do it herself.



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