PW: It's been seven years since your regional bestselling debut, One Thousand White Women. Did that novel's success put you under pressure to "measure up" when you were writing The Wild Girl?
Jim Fergus: First of all, may I say that I mildly object to the term "regional" bestseller. In fact, One Thousand White Woman has sold quite well in the Midwest, East and South, as well as the West. But to answer your question, yes, I felt tremendous pressure with this second novel. Obviously readers have expectations, and I was (and still am) afraid of disappointing them. At the same time, I didn't want to try to repeat myself. Toward that end, and to avoid the temptation to write a sequel, I was careful to kill off most of my characters at the end of the novel.
PW: Reviewers have commented on your ability to write about women and your dead-on insight into the female psyche. How does a hairy-chested outdoorsman account for such sensitivity?
JF: I think that's just a kind of literary sleight-of-hand, isn't it? That's what novelists do—create characters with other lives, ages, sexes, nationalities. I mean, if we're just going to write about ourselves, how boring would that be? And I don't really think you can be a good novelist unless you genuinely like people and are intensely interested in them, and unless you have some ability to imagine what their lives are really like. I love women and always have. I adored my mother even though she was a hopeless drunk and caused tremendous wreckage in her life and the life of our family. And that's where it all begins, really.
PW: You've lived in northern Colorado and now reside in southern Arizona. Have you always lived in the west? And what prompted you to become so interested in the American Indians?
JF: No, like both my protagonists (May Dodd and Ned Giles), I grew up in Chicago. But my father used to take us on road trips out west in the summertime, and I knew from a young age that this was my country and that one day I would live here. My parents died when I was 16 and shortly thereafter I moved out to Colorado to go to college. As to my interest in Native Americans, I was just always fascinated by them, read everything about them I could get my hands on. During our various trips out west, I used to beg my father to take us through the Indian reservations. That was a real eye-opener, the first glimpse I had of our government's dirty little secret.
PW: How does a freelance journalist/outdoor sports writer with two books about hunting and fishing decide to become a novelist?
JF: Well, I never entirely gave up my youthful dream to become a novelist. I just had a massive failure of courage for 20 or 30 years. And all the hundreds of magazine pieces I wrote over that time did not satisfy the dream. No one will ever accuse me of being precocious (or prolific); I was in my late 40s by time I got around to publishing my first novel, and I'm just about to turn 55 with this second one. Mostly I feel tremendously lucky to be a novelist. Regardless of how my books sell, I feel like I've won the lottery just to have them in print.
PW: What is your next project and how long will your readers have to wait?
JF: My next novel is the one that most writers write as their first novel. It's another semihistorical fiction that covers the first two-thirds of the 20th century, but this time it's about my family. It's the novel I was born to write. And I plan to get it out a bit faster.