Friday, February 5, 2021

Doug Engstrom

Doug Engstrom has been a farmer's son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist, and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

Engstrom's 2020 novel is Corporate Gunslinger.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Corporate Gunslinger is, among other things, a satire. The title takes a term for a predatory business person and applies it to a character who uses real bullets on behalf of her employer. For a story that’s all about highlighting the indirect violence of our economic system by making it direct and visceral in the story, I think it works well.

What's in a name?

A key attribute of the main character is that she’s a “white person behaving badly.” To be clear about that, I initially gave her the name Kira White. During revisions, someone whose opinion I respect suggested maybe that was a bit too “on the nose,” so she became Kira Clark. The name still suggests her privileged, suburban upper-middle-class upbringing, but doesn’t hit it quite so hard.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self would mostly want to know why I didn’t get a novel published until I was 57.

I wrote and submitted some stories when I was a teenager, but didn’t sell any. As an adult, I’ve written professionally, but it was all publicity and technical writing. I tinkered with fiction off and on, and seven or eight years ago I decided to be very focused and serious about it. That effort resulted in Corporate Gunslinger.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I have to know where a story is headed when I start, though sometimes that changes along the way. Corporate Gunslinger shows how Kira progresses from her first day as a trainee and works up to the biggest duel of her career—a rare, high-stakes match against another professional gunfighter instead of the usual untrained citizen. The amount at stake is huge, as is the winner's purse, but so is the chance she’ll die on the dueling field.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I don’t base my characters on any one person, though they display traits of people I know, including me.

For example, Kira’s trainer is Diana Reynolds, a former Marine. Diana's attitude toward her trainees mirrors one I often saw when I was in the Air Force--a combination of being fiercely protective toward her people, while at the same time being brutally hard on them when preparing for combat. There’s no one person in my life you can point to and say, “That’s Diana,” but Diana’s mindset and behavior are firmly grounded in reality I’ve experienced.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My biggest inspiration for Corporate Gunslinger has been watching the rise of corporate power over the last 40 years. When I first started work on the book, I was afraid the idea of allowing business to use formal, sanctioned violence to kill people with a complaint against them was so over the top no one could relate to it. By the time the book came out, I was glad the publisher added “A Novel” to the title.
Visit Doug Engstrom's website.

The Page 69 Test: Corporate Gunslinger.

My Book, The Movie: Corporate Gunslinger.

--Marshal Zeringue