Interview with the Montana native who wrote three books about his home state

Kevin S. Giles, Author

Kevin S. Giles: “A career in journalism is equivalent to a PhD in life. I can’t think of another profession where so much insight is amassed about the world around us.”

You’ve published a biography of Jeannette Rankin. Who was she?

¶ History knows her as the first woman elected to Congress. She went to the US House of Representatives in 1916. She was a fierce suffragist, led Montana to approving suffrage in 1914, and rode that momentum to Congress. At that time only 10 states had given women the right to vote. Once Montanans elected Rankin, national suffragists saw her as the voice in Congress who would achieve a federal suffrage amendment.

Did that work out?

¶ Unfortunately for the suffragists, no. World War I got in the way. But even as Congress preoccupied itself with war legislation, Rankin led a push for the federal amendment. The House approved it but the Senate didn’t, by a narrow margin, and it wasn’t until the next Congress that the amendment got enough votes and went to the states for ratification. Some people fault Rankin for failing to secure suffrage by federal amendment in those two years she served in the House. I think the opposite.There’s substantial proof that Rankin’s success at being elected astonished many Americans, the first woman ever, and she achieved more in that term than anybody expected. During that war, Congress didn’t spend much time considering the needs of women and children. That was Rankin’s principal platform, so you can see her challenges beyond the obvious one of being the only woman in the entire male Congress.

Why did you, a man, write a book about a notable feminist?

¶ I never thought about gender, not that it matters anyway. I’m a native Montanan. Jeannette Rankin is a native Montanan. My interest in Rankin began long ago when I interviewed her fellow suffragist and secretary in Congress, Belle Fligelman Winestine. I’ve documented those beginnings elsewhere on my website so I won’t repeat them here. I’m a journalist. I write stories.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot

 

You’ve written three books of Montana interest but they’re all different from one another, right?

¶ Different topics, yes, but what they have in common is that I was born and raised in western Montana and will never forget my roots. I’m born of the mountains. My first book, Jerry’s Riot, is the anatomy of a riot at Montana State Prison in 1959. It’s more than a nonfiction account of an event. It’s the back story of the psychopath behind the riot and conditions that led to one of the last nationally known prison riots of the 1950s. My second book, Summer of the Black Chevy, is a novel. It takes place in my hometown of Deer Lodge in 1965 when the protagonist Paul Morrison experiences loss and discontent in his first teenage summer. The Jeannette Rankin biography, One Woman Against War, is an exhaustive nonfiction account of her life and times. Each book reflects my passion for Montana. I live in Minnesota now but I won’t ever let go of my deep love for my native state. All three books will remain in print indefinitely. I continue to find new readers all the time, which is what writing is all about.

What should readers know about you?

¶ I love great conversations. I read extensively from a variety of sources. I’m also a longtime newspaper editor and reporter. A career in journalism is equivalent to a PhD in life. I can’t think of another profession where we amass so much insight about the world around us. Journalists interview the rich and powerful, the poor and hungry, grieving people, angry people, political people, people of all persuasions and crafts and skills. Every hour of the day, I can find someone who knows more than I do about anything. I’m not a doctor, or a lawyer, or a social worker, I don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress, and there are a million jobs out there I will never experience. But like all journalists, I do know a little about a lot. I recall my first year in journalism school when a professor told us exactly that: we would need to know a little about a lot to write the news. So, I’ve put these experiences to work in my writing of books. Writers have different backgrounds. Journalism is mine. Accuracy is important to me. So is being fair. But writing a book is different from writing a news story. Writing nonfiction is different from writing fiction. Sometimes the differences don’t become starkly apparent until a writer commits words to a page.

Do you have a fourth book in the works?

¶ Not yet. Promoting these three will take time. I put years of work into them, I’m satisfied with their quality, and I will continue to get my message out that they’re solid books worthy of their cover prices. I’ve already published a fourth book, which was my first. Let me explain. My original biography of Jeannette Rankin, which I named Flight of the Dove, sold well at the time but went out of print. When I wrote my new biography, a deeper and more insightful book, I decided to rename it One Woman Against War to reflect more precisely my updated conclusion that Jeannette Rankin was a lifelong pacifist driven by an abiding hate of war and destruction. To understand her pacifism is to explain why she took unpopular actions such as voting against two world wars.

Do you have advice for aspiring writers who want to author books?

¶ Writing is different from publishing. Publishing is different from selling. Forget everything except for putting words on a page. A book comes in stages. That very first step is doing the work. The work is hard. A writer needs a vision. By that I mean that a successful writer accepts that a book comes together in increments and keeps an eye on the prize of someday having assembled a full story to revise and edit into a potential book. Experienced writers know this and accept it as truth. Aspiring writers just need to get those first words down, and do it again tomorrow and the day after and stick with the story no matter what. You can’t build a house without a plan and you can’t build walls without a foundation.

Anything you want to say to your readers?

¶ Yes! I need you all. Thanks for your loyalty.

Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books have roots in his native western Montana. He published One Woman Against War in October 2016. Two other books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)

 

3 thoughts on “Interview with the Montana native who wrote three books about his home state

  1. I have read three of Kevin’s books and never tire of reading about the process, and about the people along the way.

  2. I read Kevin’s first book about Jeannette Rankin, Flight of the Dove. I got it at an estate sale of a friend. He was autographed by the author and Belle Winestine Fligelman and given to a former Governor of Montana. I enjoyed it very much. I also have a merchandise sack from Fligelman’s Department Store, Belle and Frieda’s parents store, which operated for over 57 years, closing in 1959. What makes it special was the quote on the front of the sack, indicative of a commitment to issues of the day.

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