Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed D. Grant Fitter, a freelance journalist and author. The Vatican Must Go is his second novel set in Mexico.
D. Grant Fitter is a citizen of North America. Born in Ontario, Canada and educated in Colorado, USA, he is convinced he was Mexican in his previous life. How else to explain such a strong attraction to all things Mexican, including his wife, Rita.
His business career includes long stints of work in Mexico City before yielding to a strong urge to pursue a livelihood in freelance journalism for seventeen years. Meanwhile, Fitter’s Mexico roots continued to call.
The Vatican Must Go is his second novel set in Mexico. His first, City of Promises, which is also available on Amazon, takes place in 1940s Mexico City and Veracruz during the glorious years of Mexico’s Golden Age. He likes to say you can’t know Mexico until you know Veracruz and Mexico City.
Be sure to look for Fitter’s third historical fiction novel to be released late this year. Silvia’s Story is set in the time period after The Vatican Must Go and immediately prior to City of Promises.
D. Grant Fitter lives in Woodbridge, Ontario and whenever possible, in the Colonial Jewel of a town, Taxco, Guerrero.
But wait! There’s more. I always knew I had a novel or two inside me, just clawing away, waiting to find a way out. I also knew it had to be about a love affair with the magic that is Mexico and its difficult-to-pin-down culture. It was not until I became an adult education teacher in the Upper Grand District School Board. Yes, I was also a teacher in Ontario, Canada. It was instructing a course in Creative Writing. It is also where I spent a few years enjoying the most satisfying work of my lifetime. It was through conversation with my students that City of Promises came together and the rest, as they say is historical fiction.
BookView Review: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
D. Grant Fitter: Lots of research preparation goes into my work. That is likely because prior to seriously thinking about writing a novel, I wrote as a journalist. Actually, a proud journalist. Only a journalist who doesn’t mind looking the fool would approach a feature story or an interview without having assembled a good understanding of the topic of or the subject in his story. A journalist must understand the background because almost always, it is the background which makes the difference between something which is simply an article and a real, living, breathing story.
Let me tell you about City of Promises which is my first full novel. It takes place in Mexico City, Veracruz and to a lesser extent, Acapulco. All are places that I know. In fact, I do believe I can only write about places and customs and people that I know well and understand. So, with that in mind, it is highly likely I was researching that first novel seven or eight years before I even knew that I was going to be writing about those places and people. What I mean is, I don’t take lunch at a sidewalk café just to eat. That would be a waste of taking in the scene and imagining it something like thirty-five years before I first experienced it. But you can do that in Mexico, where the culture of timeless traditions makes it easy to capture remnants and the spirit of a different era. That is what I love about the place.
The City of Promises tale, unwinds over a seven year time period of the 1940s and what I wanted is a story line that had to be historically loyal to the passage of actual events. That means lots of time researching events. Sometimes reading entire biographies, listening to the pop music of the era or viewing many of the quality period films. Always fitting the fictional action into real life events. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Something that might appear casual and unimportant. For reasons I don’t really recall as we are sitting here now, the protagonist had to be away from Mexico City in late August to mid-September. I decided it would be a good time to visit his village of birth on the lower gulf coast. Often, good research can bring a stroke of luck. I checked the 1945 Hurricane season maps and found that on August 24, the most damaging storm of the season formed rapidly in the Bay of Campeche about 200 miles from Arturo, the protagonist’s home and site of his fictional raw materials extraction operations. In the novel he left Mexico City immediately and did not return until the time I needed him back in the city.
Research for The Vatican Must Go follows a similar vein of diligent investigation, curiosity of the history and a first hand knowledge of the area of southern Colorado, where the story starts off. Years back I had had a personal relationship with all of the locations which history named in the opening chapters of the book. The Columbian Hotel in Trinidad and stories of its “Wild West” gaming rooms, the monument to the victims of the Ludlow Massacre, the remnants of the coal mining towns up and down the arroyos which are now all ghost towns, where I could touch and imagine some of the events in the novel. And, yes, the worn, rutted trail of the Old Santa Fe Trail were clearly visible at the time I worked on a ranch outside of Trinidad near Hoehne.
Obviously, for me, setting is an important element of my story telling. But what I really want to say is the writer must know and understand what he is talking about. He must use every resource at his disposal to support it, and from that solid footing and from further research of events and locations as you move along, the story will roll along with ease.
BookView Review: How often do you base your characters on real people?
D. Grant Fitter: I like that question, because yah, I do it all the time. As a matter of fact, I rely upon real people in order to make my characters believable. How many times do we hear it said that truth is better than fiction, or reality is funnier than fiction or maybe no one could make that story up?
While working in Mexico on The Vatican Must Go, I became good friends with a Canadian fellow, well a Scot, who now lives in Canada who was living nearby. One day, after having read my previous novel told me I should have worked a Scot into the story. At first I didn’t consider the comment seriously, until he pursued the idea of putting him into it. He is a gregarious fellow, with some strong Scottish quirks, like showing up in public areas playing his bagpipes with a satisfied grin beaming back at the onlookers who might have gathered. It turns out that months later, when I had come to a complicated place in the story, I thought yes, this IS a place where Bill the Scotsman could really bail me out. If you read The Vatican Must Go, you will see how William Patterson Taylor III, walked into a role deep down in Mexico, made a valuable contribution when needed and then, a couple of chapters later, walked right on out to carry on with his travels.
That is the only time one real person filled one real role.
But that is not how it usually happens. The real people who have fully fleshed out character roles are always a composite of several persons I have made the acquaintance of or maybe just observed over time. It truly does help to be able to call upon an image of a character and melange of their traits to
keep in mind, at the very least until they establish a footing. Then, just as we all do, they will grow and develop differently as they live in the story and adjust to events impacting their lives. Honestly, I can’t imagine myself writing any differently than that.
BookView review: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
D. Grant Fitter: There’s a reason I do not churn books out, and I don’t think anyone will ever call me a prolific writer. I am working on only my third novel now, while formulating ideas on what will be my fourth and fifth, and for the time being, don’t want to think beyond that. I had enough of writing to deadline as a journalist, thankyou very much! In journalism, there is always a deadline and when I did have time to sit back and read what was printed in a magazine or newspaper, I could almost always see where my copy should have been done better. To say I burned out after seventeen years of tight deadlines is a timid response. I flamed out. Some of the associates I made in the business thrived on the pressure even as online publishing pushed the clock to tick even faster. Oh, but now. Now, I am enjoying myself working on novels and do not want to spoil that by rushing the process.
Unless, of course I find myself in the terrible dilemma of being hounded by thousands upon thousands of fans crying out for my next release.
BookView Review: Do you find writing therapeutic?
D. Grant Fitter: Ah, there you pose an open question that can be answered in a number of different ways! If writing is a way to pass sleepless nights, then yes, for me it is therapy. If making progress on a novel while enjoying a relaxing cup of afternoon tea with a crumpet or two isn’t therapeutic, I’m hard pressed to reason why it is not. Or how about when writing yourself into a seemingly unrepairable snafu seems a frustrating waste of time, and finding the solution results in a much better scene is an overwhelming remedial treatment. If observing the rising sun cast its bright light on my keyboard whilst bowing the steam off a cup of rich black coffee is not the ideal way to start a new day isn’t heavenly, what is?
Isn’t writing a fun thing? Thankyou for asking the question which led me to a self conducted therapy treatment!
BookView Review: Does your family support your career as a writer?
D. Grant Fitter: I should hope so because my writing career doesn’t support my family.
BookView Review: What does literary success look like to you?
D. Grant Fitter: I am glad you asked that “starving artist” question, because let’s face it. I am convinced everyone who embarks on their writer journey, does so because they have a message to relay to all who read their work. Furthermore, whatever that message may be, is not grounded in market success or financial successs. It is grounded in literary success. I wilfully include myself in that designation.
As such, literary success first looks something like thinking that with the subject I have pinpointed, there is at least a seed or two with the potential for germination. It looks something that with lots of thought, I can find the approach and locate the material needed to build out a work worthy of merit.
By the next stage, I have now put in the creative hard work and it becomes more like dreaming I have applied the right combination of skill and craftsmanship to have written a work of merit.
And finally, the important measure of merit comes in reading some reviews which reward my thoughts and dreams.
Now, the final stage, that measure of merit, needs some clarification.
A work of merit does not mean that everyone is going to register a complimentary review. I need to know and accept not everyone is going to be impressed. But if enough people fully read it to get it, and if some of those who get it are moved to write a well-thought-out review, then there is a measure of validation with which to feel satisfied.
And so, if I feel satisfied enough to procced with the next one, you have what looks like literary success.