Friday, 22 June 2012

In Conversation with SS Hampton Sr.

I'm delighted to introduce my guest and fellow Muse author

S.S. Hampton Sr. author of

               Better Than A Rabbit's Foot

Welcome Stan,
We are keen to learn more about you and your writing.
So, I'm putting you on the spot now.

Okay, Wendy, I can tell you something about me. 
I'm a full blood Choctaw from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather, and a member of the Army National Guard. I'm nearing retirement from the Guard, unless I can get a deployment to Afghanistan before the war ends. I'm a published photojournalist, photographer, a fiction writer, and an aspiring painter.

I'm studying to be an archaeologist. Actually, my interest is underwater archaeology, but I need to learn to swim better first, and become scuba qualified – in Cancun, hopefully, which is far better than an oily, land-locked lake. On a more personal note, I often wonder if there is an afterlife – after all, I'm middle aged, and though not obsessed with death, I sometimes feels a cold shadow fall across me.

You certainly have a full life and such diverse interests. Quite inspirational. No wonder you are a writer. This makes me wonder, who inspires you?

As this blog is focused on fiction writing, then, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and Frederick Forsyth, to name just three. King is a great horror writer, though sometimes I think his novels are a little long. Clancy writes military fiction, which is one of my favorite genres; I enjoy the way he weaves technology into the story of people. Forsyth was a journalist first, and his writing is a wonderful blend of journalism and storytelling, as well as blending fact with fiction.

I can see how those writers reflect elements in your own career.  So, you are a full blood Choctaw.  I find that fascinating. Would you say your childhood provided you with a wealth of story material?

No. I was adopted and raised by my Anglo “grandparents” who had raised my mother and her twin sister. I’m what’s called an “Apple” – red on the outside, white on the inside. I really knew nothing of my Native heritage, beyond the stereotypical media image, until I started exploring it in my 30s.

'Apple', what a great expression. I hadn't heard that before. I'm betting the result of your 'exploring' will find its way into a future story. What about photography? Your expertise in photography must give you an exceptional eye for detail. How does this transfer into your writing?

Photography is about composition, lighting, and contrasts – in B&W, shades of light and dark, or in colour, complementary, or even complete opposites. Describing clouds for example, especially when setting a mood, I remember how a red lens filter brings out the contrast. The sky is darker, the clouds are darker, the whites are a little whiter, and the way they blend from one to the other is interesting.

I try to capture that feel, when describing clouds or anything else for a story. It’s the same when photographing, for example, a woman dancing at dawn in sheer, flowing clothing. It’s the way the dawn provides a backlight that is flowing across the horizon and the sky in that time when the night is yielding to morning. It’s the way her form is silhouetted by the rising sun, and the way the sunlight is muted by the folds of cloth, and even the shape of the cloth as it “flies away” from her, or wraps around her, as she dances. Trying to describe something like that is difficult for me, but I hope I manage to accomplish such detailed descriptions.

 I think you described these examples beautifully. Being able to hone in on unique details such as these is a real talent. Now, looking at the broader picture, as a soldier, are all of your stories related to the military or do you address other topics?

I had to double check, and amazingly, I do address non-military topics. I wrote The Ferryman (Melange Books), which is a take on the Greek myth of Charon, the ferryman who carried the shades of the dead across the Styx into the underworld.  I wrote The Mumbai Malaise, which was included in the anthology “In Poe’s Shadow” (Dark Opus Press), a collection of stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I was inspired by “The Masque of the Red Death,” which I’ve always enjoyed, and placed the story setting on the moon.

So your short stories have been published in anthologies. Congratulations! Is there something about the short story that makes you prefer this form of expression over the novella or novel?

It’s faster! It’s shorter, faster, and (hopefully) I can produce more writing. I still want to write novellas or novels, but I don’t have the patience to devote the time to writing and editing. I’d probably feel like I’ve wasted time if I only produced two or three per year. And being middle aged, not that I feel like I’m in a race with time, but…

Producing more than two or three short stories a year is pretty impressive, to me at least. It takes me a year to write one short story before I'm happy enough to send it off. I guess that's why I tend to live inside my novels - working on one major idea for a long time. But you have to find so many ideas. No doubt your bank of interests and accomplishments makes this possible.  Do you ever find writing is a chore? 

Yes! I should write every day, but I don’t. I generally write when the mood strikes me, or when a deadline looms, meaning a submission deadline, or I promised a publisher something by a certain date. If I try to write every day when I’m not in the mood, it’s difficult to do so. And yes,  like I said above, writing only when I’m in the mood is a waste of time, but hey, I’m human, and middle aged.

About the main characters in your stories, are they based on particular acquaintances or a composite of many?

Generally, at this stage, neither. Once in awhile I may add an actual personality trait to a fictional character, but never enough to where someone could say a fictional character is based on a real person. It’s hard to explain, but even though I’m writing fiction, if I base a character on a friend, or if a character is a composite of several friends, and I write that that particular character is killed or crippled, it gives me an uneasy feeling.

I can understand that. It's probably for the same reason I don't like writing in the 1st person. I become too protective of my main character when it's I. :)  In Better Than A Rabbit’s Foot, your newly released story from MuseItUp, your sergeant ponders the benefit of carrying a lucky charm. Did you carry a charm?

Yes. Our unit was tasked with providing security for supply convoys headed into Iraq. I only went north from northern Kuwait into southern Iraq three times, on short, day-long missions. I never “heard a shot fired in anger.” When I crossed the border I always wore a Celtic Cross on my “dog tag” chain (the identifying metal tags that Soldiers wear in case they’re wounded or killed).

Do you draw on personal experience in your stories or stay with what you observe in others?

I draw on my personal experiences insofar as it concerns living a military life. From those who’ve actually experienced combat, I try to remember how they described it. And of course, there’s research, reading books, magazine articles, and newspaper articles in which combat is described. I think the greatest compliment a writer can receive is when someone says the story captures the feeling, and describes “it,” as to how things really were. I read somewhere once, that after Stephen Crane wrote “The Red Badge of Courage”—he never served or observed combat, if memory serves me right—veterans and critics praised the realism of his writing, meaning capturing the fear and confusion inherent in any battle. Apparently he appreciated the praise.

Yes, he would appreciate that kind of praise. We'd all like to reach that level. Stan, would  you like to introduce your main character from your latest release? Has he appeared in any other short story of yours?

In Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot, Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young, ordinary soldier deployed to a convoy support center in northern Kuwait. He’s a gunner on a gun truck, and as he gets ready to go out on a mission, he learns that a gunner up north has been killed. The news is a kick in the stomach, and it reminds him of his own mortality. Though not actually scared, he’s not happy either. But like all soldiers, he’ll go because his buddies are going—he can’t stay behind while they head north. And, no, Stanton has not appeared in any previous short stories.

If there was something Jerry Stanton could request of you, the author, what would that be?

If Stanton felt like talking, he’d want me to listen. I wouldn’t have to say anything, just listen.

I remember late one night I stepped outside of my air conditioned tent to have a cigarette before turning in. A Soldier I knew from my first days in the Guard (I joined in 2004, and about 120 of us volunteered to deploy in 2006) came up and sat down on the concrete traffic barrier. It was just small talk, but then he started doing most of the talking while I listened. There was nothing profound, he was just talking out loud—but he mentioned the IED that struck his gun truck a few days before. Our battalion was less than three weeks into the mission; a Soldier from the battalion we were replacing had been killed. Then, a Soldier in one of our other companies was killed. A gun truck in our company was hit. Then, his gun truck was hit—he was knocked out but otherwise uninjured, and another Soldier had been lightly wounded. But still… So I lit another cigarette, and listened. After awhile, the kid sort of smiled at me, said “Good night,” and went off to get some sleep.

Ah, now there's a good answer from a writer.  That's how you become a sponge to all sorts of knowledge as well as being a good friend. Thank you for your open answers, Stan. It's been a pleasure conversing with you.

SS Hampton's short story Better Then A Rabbit's Foot is available at

MuseItUp Publishing   and  Amazon

and learn more about Stan at  MuseItUp publishing  Author Page


Rosalie Skinner said...

Great interview Wendy. Stan, wonderful 'meeting' you here. Better than a Rabbit's Foot sounds like a fascinating read. Your imagery is beautiful when you describe your photographic details.
You might be middle aged but somehow I think you understand how life should be lived. To the fullest.
I love Tom Clancy's work. He really knows how to include detailed information in a story without losing his reader. He sure knows his stuff. I have browsed a few of his non fiction books about military hardware and vehicles. ;)
Thanks for sharing. Great to learn more about a fellow Muse author.

Tanja said...

What an intelligent, charming, personality. A painter of pictures with words that are so vivid you feel like you're actually there, with Jerry Stanton, rooting for him to be safe.

Wendy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed our conversation, Rosalie. You being a painter will relate to Stan's eye for detail.

So true, Tanja. Stan has demonstrated his unique talent even in conversation.

Cheryl said...

Nice interview!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stoping by, Cheryl.

Jodi said...

As proud content editor of Better than a Rabbit's Foot, I especially enjoyed this interview. And Rosalie I assure you Stan's imagery is indeed beautiful...this line is only one of many visuals that I found myself reading again and again. " he glanced at a pale spot in the blowing dust where the broiling sun should have been."
Besides being wonderful to work with, I felt a special kinship with this talented author--we're both from OK, both of Native American heritage, and I, too, am from a military background. Truly looking forward to our next "mission."

Wendy said...

Hi Jodi,
Welcome. I'm so pleased you enjoyed our conversation. You have a lot in common with Stan. I can imagine it was a joy for you to work with him on his story. I like the example you gave.

Anonymous said...

Rosalie, Tanja, Cheryl, and Jodi,

Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate it.


Laurel Lamperd said...

What a wonderful interview, Stan.
You have written some wonderful words especially about the insight of you and the young soldier. I guess when in a war zone like Afghanistan, people have to take a fatalistic view of life. I hope that the ordinary Afghan people can soon lead the life we all want - to bring up our children, educate them so they can lead good lives, and to live in safety.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your comment.

And no, not so much fatalistic as being cautious.