Doug Worgul - novelist, journalist, and barbeque connoisseur - tells us all about his inspirations and his love of beautiful writing and shares his excitement at giving his book “an honest shot at finding an audience.” His premier novel, Thin Blue Smoke, was released June 1st and can be purchased at the Conundrum Press bookstore and anywhere fine books are sold.
You mention in your introduction to Thin Blue Smoke that the novel happened “by accident.” Can you talk about this a bit more? Where did this story come from?
Thin Blue Smoke started as a series of blog posts, not as a novel. When I started posting my little vignettes featuring LaVerne and A.B. it was not with the intent of writing a novel, and I had no real sense whatsoever where the story was going. In fact, I was less interested in where the story might go, plot-wise, than I was in creating a community of characters deeply connected to a specific place that readers of my blog might come to care about. I had to be convinced to make a novel out it.
Was there a particular book, journalist, writer who inspired you to write?
Frederick Buechner’s works were a source of inspiration in their style, their theology, and their humanity. And the novels of Michigan native Jim Harrison stirred something up in me that made me want to write.
How has your work with Joe’s Kansas City Barbeque and your knowledge of barbeque, in general, affected your writing and your novel in particular?
I first starting writing about Kansas City barbecue when I became editor of Kansas City Magazine in the early 90s, and continued that work for ten years as a features editor and writer at The Kansas City Star. While at The Star I wrote a book on the history of Kansas City barbecue and became caught up in the richness of that history and the marvelous stories, personalities, and places that make barbecue such an important part of of Kansas City’s civic and cultural identity. Thin Blue Smoke could not have happened if I hadn’t immersed myself in those stories first.
How has your experience in journalism affected your novel, or your writing, if at all?
Journalists are taught and trained first to describe. That training and experience has directly shaped my fiction. I don’t spend as much time in my characters heads as perhaps other novelists might. I try to write a scene as I would have seen it had I been witness to it, or as it may have been described to me if I had interviewed the characters in the scene.
How does it feel to have your novel reprinted with Conundrum Press?
It’s been deeply gratifying to have Caleb Seeling and Conundrum Press invest their time, energy, and resources in giving this book an honest shot a finding an audience.
What are you reading right now?
I’m just finishing The Year We Left Home, by Jean Thompson. Next up are Our Souls at Rest, by Kent Haruf and The Great Leader by Jim Harrison.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? Which do you avoid?
Literary fiction is pretty much all I read, unless I’m doing research for a novel or an article, which requires me to do some very specific non-fiction reading. But that’s work reading, not pleasure reading.
Who is your favorite writer, and why?
The late Kent Haruf is my current favorite writer. Nearly every sentence he ever wrote was achingly and hauntingly beautiful.
What is your ideal writing environment?
Anywhere that’s quiet and cool.
What is your favorite part of Thin Blue Smoke? Or, which is the most personally meaningful to you?
Chapter 44. The chapter title is “It is well”. It takes place down in Texas when LaVerne is fourteen years old and he is baptized. It’s a hopeful and beautiful bit of writing. I wish I had as much faith and hope as LaVerne, Rose, and Delbert have in that chapter.