Wayne Norris is a writer from Oklahoma who’s fascinated with history’s mysteries, and has recently joined the Book Country workshop. We wanted to welcome him to the fold and chat with him about his young adult book, JESSE, which asks the question, “What if Jesse James didn’t die at the hands of Robert Ford?”
NG: Let’s start from the beginning: How did you become a writer?
WN: It’s a strange, round-about story. I used to be a Correctional Officer, mainly transporting inmates from local jails. I spent a lot of time on the road, so I had plenty of opportunities to think about things. Eventually, a story would pop into my head and, on my off hours, I’d type it on my computer. This became the basis of my first book. Once that was published, I was so proud of myself, I had to start another; hence, JESSE was born.
NG: On your Book Country profile you say that you like “writing about history’s mysteries and uncovering little known facts.” What draws you to the subject of history?
WN: I’ve always been a history buff, especially the Civil War and early Native American. I did research, once, on Native Americans and found that what I was taught in school was not necessarily what really happened, and I wanted to find the true story. Since then, I’ve always questioned what’s real about major historical events.
NG: Your young adult novel on the site, JESSE, is about a group of teen girls trying to uncover the truth about Jesse James’ death. What prompted you to write an alternate narrative of his life?
WN: One of my daughters gave me the idea for the characters, but I had no plot. None the less, I started writing until something caught my attention about Jesse James. It seemed interesting enough, but, at the time, I didn’t know what I was getting into. It took two years of research to uncover the facts from both sides of the story, visit the places mentioned in the book, and talk to everyone who had any information; it almost became an obsession. But I’m glad I did it.
NG: JESSE is a complete novel, and we all know how hard it is to remain focused and reach the finish line. What kept you going up during the writing process?
WN: Remaining focused and keeping things in chronological order was the hardest part. I’d find a snippet of information here and there and would insert it where it should go, then connect the plot to that bit of information. The whole investigating and reporting process was exciting for me. I was like a child in a candy store and couldn’t wait to see what I could uncover next.
Also, I was thinking about writing a series of books with the same characters who investigate other mysteries of history, but I wanted to get feedback on JESSE before committing myself to a longer project.
NG: How was writing JESSE different from writing the adult books you have on Book Country? How does your writing approach change across different genres?
WN: My first book is a crime mystery, and my current book in the works is a political drama–both of which I haven’t had to do as much research for. I have no idea how the books will end until I reach that point. It’s like a movie running through my imagination, one page at a time. With JESSE, on the other hand, I knew, basically, where I wanted it to end, so I could concentrate on getting to the final pages.
Also, I had to think what teenage girls would think about (not an easy task for an old man!) and incorporate their style of language, attitude, and mannerisms within the story.
NG: What books or writers have had a powerful influence on you and your writing?
WN: I don’t have a particularly favorite author, per se. I like books that draw my interest into it right from the beginning with twists and turns that keep me anticipating the next move. And, as in life, there’s not always a happy or a predictable ending. If it’s pretty obvious ‘the butler did it’, I lose interest.
NG: Why are you on Book Country?
WN: My previous publisher either sold their business or merged with another, and they recommended Book Country. I do like the idea that I can receive comments and criticisms from other authors – not just family and friends, who are biased. This gives me a more honest about how my writing resonates with others.
NG: I’m happy you decided to join us! What is something fun that we don’t know about you?
WN: Ah, the easiest question on here. I love to cook. Get me in the kitchen, turn on the heat, and leave me alone. I’m in heaven. I’ll make you a meal you’ll tell your grandchildren about.
NG: Thanks for chatting with me, Wayne! Happy writing.