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William Least Heat Moon Essay

This week on Intersection we are joined by William Trogdon, who writes under the name William Least Heat-Moon, to discuss his new novel, “Celestial Mechanics.”

The novel follows Silas Fortunato, an amateur astronomer, through a serious accident and life-changing relationships with three women. The novel is set in a place inspired by Columbia and Boone County. Heat-Moon is also the author of books including “Blue Highways” and “PrairyErth”.

Listen here:

Heat-Moon reads from the first chapter of "Celestial Mechanics."

Points from our conversation:

  • Heat-Moon drew from some of his personal experiences when writing the main character, Silas Fortunato. “I certainly have pillaged from my own life to help build him as a character. There are a few things in there that are just quite literally from my life. His stepping away from organized religion is the exact story of what happened to me. But other things are distorted.”

  • The book focuses on disconnecting from modern technology, and thinking about larger ideas, Heat-Moon says. “The book is very much about the dangers of self-absorption, and trying to connect with something bigger than self. There is a lot of talk in there about otherness and Silas, the protagonist of 'Celestial Mechanics,' is an amateur astronomer and he is looking to find ways to build a personal ethical code from what he can understand and comprehend from his astronomy.”

  • Rewriting is a fundamental, and extensive, part of Heat-Moon's process. "..this book took 10 years of notebook work to think about, and four years to write. The ideas kept developing. The ideas that are in this book, and there certainly are many of them in there, they weren't all there at first. I had to think about this for those 14 years to find what the book is really about and what it was and I wanted to say about the universe."

Intersection’s producers are Claire Banderas, Meg Vatterott and Trevor Hook.

If you are a creative type, then you may have given some thought to the process behind creating. Whether you paint, write essays or solve engineering problems, Columbia author William Least Heat-Moon has written a book that illuminates the creative process. Least Heat-Moon discussed his new bookWriting Blue Highways on KBIA's Thinking Out Loud. He also speaks this Thursday at 7:00 p.m at the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia.

Before William Least Heat-Moon was a famous author who happens to live in Columbia, Missouri, he was recently divorced and the disillusioned holder of a PhD who happened to live in Columbia.

The 1977-78 trip that he took to find out about America became Blue Highways, a book that stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks after it came out in 1982.

In order to become a better writer, Least Heat-Moon relied on good writers and teachers. One of those teachers who influenced and helped him was the late Stephens College professor Jack Lezebnik.

Jack taught English at Stephens and became my friend and counselor over the years. He was sixteen years older than I was: A World War II veteran, a good reader and a really excellent editor. By watching him edit my prose I learned how to revise. It was that great gift that he gave me.

I went in there and I had no idea about how to rework what I'd put down, very little idea, even though at that time I had a PhD from the University in the English Department. You would think that a PhD in English would know how to write. Well, I knew the basics but to make a sentence sing - I hope they sing - that's what Jack was good at. He was my editor and read everything I wrote up through Road to Quoz.

Working together with him over the other six books, I learned what he had to teach. In fact, the last thing we did together I was disagreeing with him almost as much as I agreeing with his ideas. Whenever he pointed out something he thought was weak or incorrect I always considered it because he rarely was wrong. His solution might not be what I wanted, but he had identified a problem that was there that other readers would pick up on.

In his new book Writing Blue Highways, Least Heat-Moon explores the role of teachers, the need for creative types to have the discipline to revise and what's wrong with some contemporary authors. William Least Heat-Moon will speak about Writing Blue Highways this Thursday evening at 7:00pm at Columbia's Daniel Boone Regional Library.

Listen to Thinking Out Loud each Tuesday afternoon at 6:30 on KBIA.

Listen to William Least Heat Moon on KBIA's Thinking Out Loud. Trevor Harris discussed with the author his new book 'Writing Blue Highways', Least Heat-Moon's preferred way to write and the secret ingredient behind his creative process.