Category Archives: Interviews

Jimmy Kimmel Interview

Out of Time with Jimmy Kimmel

Emmy nominated host of ABC’s late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! talks to the founding editors of Whitefish Review about fishing, family, and laughter in a changing world.

Interview by Brian Schott, Lyndsay Schott, Ryan Friel, Mike Powers


When my wife Lyndsay woke me up one night to tell me that Jimmy Kimmel had just subscribed to our journal, I thought she was joking. We had just been riding a fun wave of media attention for landing a post-retirement interview with David Letterman, and a number of new subscribers had signed up online. But Jimmy Kimmel, really?

The next day I did a little research and it started to make some sense. Kimmel was a big fan of Letterman. Jimmy loved to fly fish. He had just done a magazine photo shoot in Montana. I wondered, what would happen if I emailed him?

Many months later, I sat with my wife and two best friends around a table in the Whitefish Review office on November 16, 2016. We smiled at each other as the happy voice of late night comedy came over our speaker phone.

Jimmy was kind, funny, thoughtful, and generous. I continue to be impressed and inspired by people like him, whose time is at such a high premium—and they still keep an eye out for the little fish like us. —Brian Schott

Jimmy Kimmel: Hello?

Brian Schott: Jimmy!

JK: Brian?

BS: Hello.

JK: What’s happening? How are ya?

BS: I am doing well. How are things with you?

JK: Everything’s good thank you. Just chugging away here as we get near the end of the year. Getting things all wrapped up.

BS: Well, good. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today.

JK: My pleasure.

BS: So I’m sitting here with my wife, Lyndsay Schott, who is one of the founding editors and the brains behind the operation, as you can imagine.

JK: Hi, Lyndsay.

Lyndsay Schott: Hi, Jimmy.

BS: And I’m here with Mike Powers, another founding editor, and Ryan Friel, our other founding editor and resident fishing expert.

JK: I’m feeling… I feel like I might be in trouble now that there’s a round table assembled.


Ryan Friel: No, it’s more of a square here Jimmy. And the word “expert” of course is used very loosely, as you know in the fishing world.

JK: All right. Yeah, for sure. [laughs] So what do you want to talk about?

BS: Well, first, we were really sorry that your bid for Vice President of the United States fell flat and we were obviously really surprised about it. It looked like you had the polling numbers. What happened?

JK: I’m not sure what happened. My mother told me that she got a note from a friend who lives in DeKalb, Georgia who said it was reported in the local newspaper that my name was written on ballots there. So that seems to have been my stronghold. In that area, I got at least one person, according to the newspaper, who wrote my name in. Turns out, it’s best to have a running mate if you want to be the running mate.

RF: Right…

JK: In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have gone it alone. But, you know, the next campaign will probably start in about three months. So… I’ll get going on that.

BS: So are you thinking you’ll stick with the VP role again or do you have higher sights?

JK: I might lower my sights. I might run for like, Secretary of the Interior.

BS: Well, good. We could use you.

JK: Run for a cabinet position. [laughter]

BS: So we can’t ignore talking about the election just for a minute. It’s obviously a strange time in American politics. Last night on your show you said you wake up thinking about it. It’s obviously deeply troubling to a large portion of the population and we just wanted to grab a few more thoughts from you about Trump winning the election.

JK: Well, it just goes to show you, nobody knows anything, do they? I mean it’s a lot like fishing in a way. It should be a good day, the conditions are perfect, guys have been catching a lot of big fish—and then you come home with nothing. [laughs] And you know it’s funny that people call it an upset because, in a way, there’s no such thing as an upset. I mean, I suppose if The Rock [Dwayne Johnson] was fighting Danny DeVito and Danny DeVito won the fight—that would be an upset.

But I think it is interesting to see everybody saying, “Now is the time to come together.” I don’t recall that happening when Obama won and a lot of people were upset. And hopefully we will do that. And hopefully we will be pleasantly surprised by our new president. I don’t know if that will happen, but I’m sure we will be surprised by our new president.

RF: Well said.

LS: Well, I’m the girl in the fishing boat. You know, I’m trying to break up the locker room talk today. [laughter] And I love the movie, “Back to the Future.” So you know, a lot of women and minorities—we can’t overlook that they are feeling a little unheard in our country at this time. Do you think that I have to be afraid, or is there any risk that we are moving back in time? Do I have to worry about, you know—the flux capacitor at this time?

JK: [Laughing] I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that question. The problem is, I think, that a lot of people didn’t vote. I think if you’re going to point to anything, it’s got to be that. I saw a story on the news last night, about a bunch of protestors in Oregon, and the local news decided to check their arrest records next to their voting records. And it turned out that something like sixty of them hadn’t registered to vote or voted. And, that’s just… you sometimes wonder if people shouldn’t be forced to vote. But then, should we be giving a vote to someone that doesn’t want to cast one in the first place? You know, if anyone’s not feeling heard, they should look at the people who decided not to vote this time around. I mean, whatever reason you have for not voting, my guess is that it’s a bad one.

LS: It’s hard to protest something that you didn’t participate in.

JK: Well, not with those people I guess. I think sometimes people don’t put those two things together…but they definitely should. And hopefully four years from now, which is always a long time away, people will remember, umm… this.

Mike Powers: Hey Jimmy, this is Mike.

JK: Hey, Mike.

MP: We all know laughter is powerful, and let’s talk about it. Can we use laughter to bring about change in this country?

JK: Last year, as in, what, 2015?

MP: Oh, sorry, I mean, laughter.

JK: Oh, laughter. I’m sorry. [all laughing] Yeah, I think you can. I think that a lot of young people especially—their opinions are shaped by the opinions of the comedians they listen to, and the people they look up to. I do think, especially when people’s opinions are being formed, humor makes a big difference.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of it is preaching to the choir. We made a video [on Jimmy Kimmel Live!] about climate change, where I thought, “What can you say to people that will make them actually consider your point of view rather than just being combative or insulting?” I decided that the angle we would take was climate scientists. The vast majority of them have nothing to gain, financially, from opposing climate change and working to slow it. I always wondered what the motivation is for these people who don’t believe that climate change is man-made. Why would scientists warn us about something that isn’t real? There’s no benefit to them.

So we made a video, whose message was basically, like, “We’re not fucking with you. Why would we fuck with you? We went to eight years of college. Do you think this is why we did it? So we could trick you into thinking that climate change is happening?” And it was a pretty effective video—a lot of people saw it. And for me, that’s what I like to go for. If you really want to change a person’s opinion, insulting them is not the way to do it. It’s to be clever, and make them stop, and actually consider it. Now with that said, I don’t know that we changed anyone’s minds, but we definitely didn’t hurt the case.

RF: Hey Jimmy, Friel here. With that said, are there any effects that you have seen in your time fishing, or that you could envision is going to happen with our cold water fisheries in the upcoming years?

JK: Well, I’m part of a group called American Rivers. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?

Kimmel is an avid fly fisherman, shown here recently in Montana.
Kimmel is an avid fly fisherman, shown here recently in Montana. (courtesy Jimmy Kimmel)

RF: I am familiar.

JK: Well, they’re trying to get rid of those damn dams, in as many places as we possibly can. I think for me, fishermen are among people who understand what’s going on, in a real way, how our land and resources are affected by these energy companies whose goal is to make money. And that’s fine, but when it comes at the expense of everyone, it’s not fine. I think that fly fishermen in general tend to be a more thoughtful group. And I think that people should listen to them. Almost all of the people involved in American Rivers are fly fishermen. And of course, there’s the selfish aspect to it. You want to have the best fishing you possibly can. But I think great fishing equals a healthy environment. Those things go hand in hand.

So the more we can do to make the fishing better, the more we can do to make the country better, and the world better. Here in Los Angeles, there’s a group called “Raise the River”—they’re trying to get the LA River flowing again. Right now, it’s a cement water channel in most parts. It used to be a real river, and there were fish in it, and steelhead. To me, it would be a beautiful thing if they were able to get that river flowing regularly again.

RF: I think that you’re right, that most anglers, maybe fly fishers in particular, see that cycle of life in the ecosystem, and they want to be back in the water. And if we take that away from them, well, they can’t go stand in the water and wave a stick anymore.

JK: Yeah, it’s hard for people who aren’t fly fishermen to even understand the idea of catch and release. That’s what most people ask me about. They are puzzled by this. They are like, “Why would you even bother to fish if you are releasing the fish?” It’s almost impossible to explain, other than to tell them, “If we didn’t release the fish, there wouldn’t be any in ten years.” And even then, they’re still scratching their heads. I think you really have to be there to get it. I know I did.

For years I grew up bait fishing. On the off chance we caught something, we gutted it and ate it almost immediately. And we were very excited. And the idea of releasing these fish was an alien one to me. But now, I can’t even imagine intentionally killing one of these fish.

RF: Right. My brother and I grew up that same way. You know, you would just bonk every fish you caught and eat it.

JK: Yeah.

RF: And now, my smart-ass comment to people, as I’m trying to explain to them what we are trying to do is, “Well, you can only eat them one time. That’s it.”

JK: That’s right.

RF: I saw that you did some winter fishing on the Gallatin River. I assumed it was a nymph game over there, just by the temperatures.

JK: That was really a photo shoot more than we were fishing. Typically I much prefer dry fly fishing. But it was very cold, so we were nymph fishing. But that was primarily for a magazine photo shoot. They asked me to do a photoshoot and I really didn’t want to do it. And they said it was a “bucket list” issue. I think they just wanted me to pose on the cover with a bucket or something dumb. [laughter]

And I said, well, if you’re really looking for a bucket list item, I’d love to fish that river. You know, I saw the movie, A River Runs Through It, and that idea has always excited me. And they said they would set it up. And they did, so I couldn’t say no.

Kimmel practicing catch and release in Montana. (courtesy Jimmy Kimmel)
Kimmel practicing catch and release in Montana. (courtesy Jimmy Kimmel)

RF: Right, of course not. And you did a Smith River float this summer, didn’t you?

JK: You know, my Smith float got canceled due to weather conditions. So instead we just rented a house and we fished on the Beaver Head and the Big Hole.

RF: Good spots there too. I just got back from the Missouri River.

JK: Oh, you did. Yeah, we had a lot of fun. But I was really, really excited about that float trip. One of these days I’ll do it.

RF: It’s fantastic. And it sounds like you know. Weather considerations can be the issue. You can hit it spot-on and have great dry fly fishing or you can wake up in the snow and brown water.

JK: They were saying we wouldn’t have even been able to get the boats through, so it would have been a lot of dragging the boats through gravel.

BS: So let’s circle back to David Letterman for a few minutes, which is really how we got here with you today, Jimmy.

JK: Oh, yeah, that’s right.

BS: So Lyndsay told me one night, “Hey, I think Jimmy Kimmel just subscribed to Whitefish Review.” And we were like, “wow.” [laughter] Go figure.

LS: He didn’t believe me was actually, I think, the first response. [more laughter]

JK: Well, it’s interesting. I know Dave’s very discriminating, so I figured if he decided to be a part of it, it had to be good. And so I subscribed. And you know, when I’m out fishing, typically the word “whitefish” is not a good thing.

RF: Yeah… right?! [laughter]

JK: But you guys do a nice job with it and I was impressed with the publication overall—not just the Letterman story.

BS: Thank you.

RF: Thanks, Jimmy. As the fisherman in the group, you can imagine how I struggled, even more than these guys, with the title.

JK: Oh, you did. Exactly. It’s funny. It becomes a little bit tongue and cheek if you like fishing.

BS: Don’t you have to kiss a whitefish when you haul one in?

RF: You do it one time, maybe.

JK: Yeah, right. I don’t kiss anything with a moustache. [laughter]

BS: Let’s talk about David Letterman for just a minute because we know he was a big influence on you. Can you speak about that influence?

Kimmel and his brother Jonathan in front of his L8 NITE plate, in this first time published photo. (courtesy Jimmy Kimmel)
Kimmel and his brother Jonathan in front of his L8NITE plate, in this first-time published photo. (courtesy Jimmy Kimmel)

JK: When I was a kid, there were kids who were known—like he’s the kid who sells pot, he’s the quarterback on the football team. I was the kid who watched David Letterman. It was really what I was primarily known for and there weren’t a lot of kids who watched David Letterman. It increased over the couple of years I was watching in high school, but I’d write Late Night with David Letterman on all my book covers. My license plate on my car said L8NITE. I’d have viewing parties at my house when he had a special on Friday nights. I was completely obsessed with the show.

And most people mistakenly think that this is what made me dream of one day doing a late night talk show. It’s really not true. That was… I don’t know whether you’d call it an accident or a coincidence or just something that happened. But really, what I was interested in was watching a late night talk show. I never really thought about hosting one. It never occurred to me that there would be a show other than Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Or that either one of them would ever go off the air. It just never entered my mind. I know that’s dumb, but it’s true.

MP: Congratulations on having the longest running late night talk show in ABC’s history.

JK: Thank you. It was a low bar to clear.

MP: At least you got over it. As you look to the next decade, are there any specific things you want to accomplish whether it’s personal or professional?

JK: Well, the job’s a little bit of a grind. So, the challenge for me is continuing to do new things and to not get stuck in a rut—to keep myself interested. I think that’s the biggest challenge, because you’re doing basically the same thing every day. And you don’t ever want it to feel like it’s a regular job. I think that when you start feeling that way is when you should probably stop doing it. So for me, it’s a challenge to not be just funny, but creative every day and to be able to continually improve the show. I like it when I look back at a show from three years ago and think, “Oh, that was no good,”—because it indicates we’re getting better at it. So as long as we keep getting better at it, I enjoy doing it. But when we don’t, I’ll really have to stop and evaluate what I am doing with my life because there are other things I’d like to do.

BS: When you think back to Letterman’s career and observe him in retirement—and some of the thoughts he’s had about his career—has it caused you to shift any approach to your show?

JK: No, I don’t think so. I think if anything, I try to remind myself to enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it. While I’m doing it, I do have a tendency to look ahead. I do fantasize about buying a house in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming and spending a lot of time fishing—and not working. But I also know myself well enough to know that I will miss these days. So I do want to try to be present and try to be in the moment and try to appreciate the time as it passes. But, I usually fail at that. [laughter]

Kimmel img031-C
Kimmel celebrating his 18th birthday in 1985. (courtesy Jimmy Kimmel)

LS: So, a little bit of time has passed for you this week, huh? You just had your birthday the other day. Happy 50th!

BS, RF, MP: 49th…!

JK: 49th, 49th.

LS: Oh, I mean 49th. That was a joke.

JK: Oh. Ha, ha. You’d be surprised at how many people I work with got confused about that.

LS: What does it feel like to be staring at 50? We’re very young here, you know…

RF: That’s also a lie.

LS: Yeah, we’re lying.

JK: Well, it’s upsetting. You know, I won’t lie. It’s upsetting. I find myself trying to figure out how old my dad was when we moved to Las Vegas. And how old my dad was when we moved to Arizona. And then compare myself to that, just to put it in perspective. The funny thing is, and I guess the good thing is, the older you get, the younger everyone seems. So, now all of a sudden, you hear somebody dies—and they are 73 year old—and you say, “Oh my god, they were so young.” Whereas when I was 25, somebody was 73 years old and they died and I said, “Well, they lived a long life. Thank god.” It’s really all about your perspective. The older you are, the younger everyone else is. Including people older than you.

RF: True tale.

BS: So you have a young daughter.

JK: Yeah, she’s almost two and a half.

BS: You seem to get a kick out of how kids think and the things that they say. Do you have any funny lessons your young daughter has taught you recently?

JK: Well, she’s taught me that my belief that I was in charge of the house—that I was mistaken. We are really her servants. We are there to do her bidding. There’s no two ways about it. She wakes up in the morning and tells me what kind of pancakes she wants and then just directs us throughout the rest of the day and all weekend long. And, I love it.

I really get a kick of out of watching her learn to speak—that is a lot of fun for me. She’s really funny. The things she picks up on are always surprising. I have two older kids, a 25-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son, but I forgot about all the fun stuff that goes along with it. I have to rush home every night just to make sure I get an hour in with her before she goes to sleep.

LS: Have you ever taken her candy away? Like your bit on the show?

JK: I did try it, but she didn’t really bite. She got focused instead—there was some dirt in the bucket—she has the attention span of a two year old because—because she is two, you know. I’ll try it again next year and see what happens.

MP: We’ve noticed that family is important to you and that you incorporate some of your family into the show. Does this help to keep you grounded in Hollywood, Jimmy?

courtesy ABC/Randy Holmes
courtesy ABC/Randy Holmes

JK: Well, I think it does. But I don’t think that’s why I did it. I mean, all the people in my family who work for me are very qualified and do a great job. That is always the first thing. I wouldn’t hire somebody just because they needed money. People have to carry their weight. It’s not fair to the rest of the staff if they don’t. For me, part of it is, I’m at work so much. It’s just a way to keep in touch with everybody. Since I don’t have any real off time, I found that bringing them into the workplace was good. My wife works here, my brother, my cousins Sal and Mickey. My son is a production assistant here, and there are a few other relatives scattered throughout.

MP: Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

BS: Any must read books that you’ve come across lately?

JK: You know, there is one book that I think is an interesting book for people to read. I don’t know how many people would actually read it, but it’s a book about the history of the tomato. I think it’s called Ripe. I’ll look it up while we are talking. It’s a book about the tomato, not just how it came to be popular in the United States and in North Ripe_FIN_FINAmerica, but also how it’s shipped to you, how it’s grown, all the terrible things we’ve done to turn the tomatoes we get in the supermarket into red rubber balls. Yes, it’s called Ripe: the Search for the Perfect Tomato. [by Arthur Allen (Counterpoint Press, 2011)] You know if you are looking to read about 300 pages about tomatoes, I couldn’t recommend a book more than this one. [laughter]

BS: Any authors in your life that influenced you?

JK: I love Kurt Vonnegut. You know if I were forced to pick a favorite writer, it would probably be him. When I was a kid I always loved reading Hemingway—that’s part of what got me interested in fishing and being an outdoorsman, which was not part of my upbringing. We grew up in Brooklyn and Las Vegas—and I think you could describe us as “indoorsmen”—for sure, that was our family. Tom McGuane is another writer I like who I got an opportunity to fish with on a bone fishing trip. He’s a great guy.

BS: Yes, Tom’s been a great supporter of the Review as well. We got to watch that episode Buccaneers & Bones where you fished with McGuane and Tom Brokaw. It looked like a hoot.

JK: Yes, Buccaneers and Bones. That was a mess. Oh… It’s hard enough, my first bone fishing trip. And you know, it’s windy and everything. And, I’ve got camera boats circling and scaring the fish off every single time.

RF: Of course.

JK: I was like, “Oh please, will you guys go away and let us fish.”

RF: Let us just get a couple and then come back.

JK: The good thing is, the first bonefish I ever caught was professionally filmed. So that is a nice memento. The bad part was watching me flail helplessly into the wind.

RF: That’s all of us though, that’s all of us.

JK: Trying to remember how to double-haul in not so great conditions.

RF: Yeah, there’s no one who’s good at it. I don’t care what they say. [laughter]

BS: Well, we certainly would like to invite you to come and fish with us in Montana sometime.

JK: Send me an email and when I figure out my vacation schedule, maybe I’ll take you up on that. We like to try new spots and we’ve not been up there.

RF: Yeah, we would love to have you up here for sure, Jimmy.

JK: All right, thanks guys, appreciate it. Nice talking to you and keep up the good work.

MP: And Jimmy, thank you so much for speaking with us today. Our apologies to Matt Damon, but we ran out of time.

JK: [laughs] I’ll pass them along.

You can subscribe to Whitefish Review or order a copy. Issue #20 (Out of Time) contains the Jimmy Kimmel interview, Montana Prize for Fiction, and 40 writers, artists, and photographers. Please also consider making a donation to our non-profit project to keep the arts flowing.

Jim Harrison Interview

Jim Harrison: A Writer’s Life

In one of the last interviews before his death, Jim Harrison invited us into his writing studio for a vivid, wide-ranging talk about art, loss, illness, and the arc of his life.

By Benjamin Polley
Photos by Erik Petersen
Published March 28, 2016 by Whitefish Review

Jim Harrison was one of contemporary literature’s most versatile and prolific writers, publishing 39 books across many genres and drawing comparisons to Hemingway and Faulkner. He died in Arizona of natural causes on March 26, just a handful of months after giving Whitefish Review the following interview.

One of Harrison’s best-known works, the novella Legends of the Fall (1979), was made into a Hollywood movie in 1994 starring Brad Pitt and helped elevate him as a writer when he was a younger man. While a celebrated writer in the States, he reached legendary status in France, where his books sell by the hundreds of thousands and his followers call him the “Mozart of the Plains.”

When I met him one late day in November last year to ask him questions about his life and his work, he was 78 years old and obviously troubled by the effects of spinal surgery and shingles. His left eye was blind and wandered, the result of a childhood accident, but occasionally I found it staring directly at me. His wrinkled face looked like a broken-in baseball mitt. He emitted an energy that was jocular and jovial.

I was traveling with photographer Erik Petersen and we were fortunate to spend three hours with Jim at his seasonal home along the Yellowstone River, outside of Livingston, Montana. His wife Linda had died of a rare lung disease a few weeks before our visit. They had been married for 57 years.

Jim welcomed us into his writing studio where he sat at his writing desk. He was shirtless and wore grey fleece shorts. Brown hiking boots dangled from his feet.

Smoke rose from his ashtray where a cigarette had been recently stubbed out. A crushed empty box of smokes lay next to a full one. Books lined the back of his desk and yellow legal pads, full of scrawling, sat in front of him.

Duke Ellington’s voice crackled from the vintage radio on a bookshelf next to bear claws, masks, animal skulls, and war clubs. A dried and wrinkled rattlesnake hung from a tack above the window. Pinned to a bulletin board behind his desk were Buddhist maxims, family photos, and a photo of a raven and a vulture sharing a carcass.

Harrison was one of my all-time favorite writers and he was sitting before me. I felt excited, fortunate, intimidated, and a bit terrified. I had wanted to meet him for so many years. Months previous, I had sent some of the questions I planned to ask to his secretary in Michigan, who typed all of his books from the manuscripts he faxed. In person, our conversation flowed as naturally as the local rivers where Jim liked to fly fish.

photo by Erik Petersen
photo by Erik Petersen for Whitefish Review

Erik Petersen: Hello Jim. We met a long time ago. I photographed you once before.

Benjamin Polley: How’s it going, Jim? I brought you a gift. [I hand him a fancy bottle of French wine.]

EP: I see you have downsized in bird dogs.

Jim Harrison: Yeah. Folly. She’s a retriever. She likes to hide in the tall grass. She’s a bright, little girl. She’s an English Cocker. But I might get another Setter for four hundred dollars. I am too old to get another dog. My wife got her. But my wife died a couple of weeks ago.

BP: Sorry to hear that.

JH: She was in her seventies. Folly is an English long hair Cocker. She’s apartment-sized.

EP: Yeah, she has some energy. I watched her do a lap around the yard.

JH: I have been going to Patagonia, Arizona for twenty-five years. I like to bird hunt.

EP: For chukhars or what?

JH: No. Quail.

EP: I think you had one of those setters the last time I was here.

JH: One dog was bit in the yard by a rattler.

BP: I remember reading about that in one your books.

JH: I declared war on the rattlers. I shot about 30 of them. Then I decided I couldn’t handle it. I got a snake man to come out and he trapped a thousand. There was a big den straight uphill from here. They all gathered here.

BP: Wow! Did you cook them up?

JH: No. I’ve eaten them before. I don’t think they are good. You put them on the grill and they squirm from the heat. Some Mexicans stopped by and they asked for them. They asked for salt. They said they can’t eat them without salt.

BP: You care if I ask you a few questions, Jim?

JH: Go for it. That is what you are here for.

EP: [motioning to the window shades] You care if I open these up and get some light in here?

JH: Yeah, you can flick the second switch against the wall behind you too. Did you drive all the way up from Missoula?

BP: Yes, I did this morning. It’s a beautiful drive.

EP: I live up in the Shields Valley.

JH: Oh, you do? That’s a nice place to live. Linda, my wife, liked to go out there in the fall when the poplars turned yellow.

EP: Yeah, it’s beautiful.

JH: We used to hunt down there. One year we got one moose, two elk, two deer. That’s a lot of meat. I will tell you the reason I don’t have a shirt on is because now for two years after I have postherpetic neuralgia. Because that is what you get after you have shingles. Now it’s all in my right scapula. Now, it hurts to wear T-shirts.

BP: Do the shingles itch? What does it feel like?

JH: It hurts. It’s like electric impulses keep zapping you.

EP: It probably hurts when you sleep at night?

JH: It can. Now I need some Mexican salve. I get it from a doctor in Nogales. It’s made out of trees. All my doctors use it for burns and stuff. So I give a guy money and he goes across the line. Then I bought some marijuana salve. But it doesn’t work very well. I wanted it to work but you have to use quite a bit. My insurance won’t pay for it either.

EP: They probably won’t pay for the Mexican variety.

JH: They won’t pay for either. Because I was at Mayo to get over my spinal operation, which I never did successfully. Which is why I walk slowly and makes it hard to bird hunt because I have to use a cane. [He shows us his cane.]

BP: That is a beautiful one!

JH: Ironwood. Made by some Mexican Indians. I don’t know where they got it.

BP: It grows down there, don’t it?

JH: Yeah.

BP: I worked in Big Bend National Park several years ago and ironwood grew there.

JH: My mother was raised by bird watchers and she counted 115 different bird species from our patio in three days, once. Which is amazing when you consider how many we have here.

BP: Yeah, it’s a major migratory route through there.

JH: It’s lovely! When I see a bird, I need to hear it give a call. And the next time I see it, I will know. We saw an elegant trogon from the patio and they are like a paint-by number bird. Very beautiful! About four different colors. How did you get to work in Big Bend?

BP: Well, I worked on trail crews in Glacier National Park and other national parks for thirteen years. And I worked down there one winter and it was beautiful!

JH: I could tell when I shook your hand that you have a long dark past of manual labor. My dad always said, “If you are a good shovel man, you will never go hungry.”

BP: Yep, I have worked the shovel a lot over the years.

JH: I know. I was a laborer in my younger career. Manual labor was very serene compared to being in an office. It kept your mind clear so in the evening you can write. You know that way you are not stuck in your head all day.

BP: You used to be a mason, right?

JH: Yeah, that is tough stuff. When I was younger I carted those corner blocks. They are 85 pounds. I just twisted my fingers.

EP: Do you write everything out longhand? That is easier on your hands.

JH: Yeah, I typed Legends of the Fall with one finger at a time.

BP: You wrote that in nine days, didn’t you?

JH: Yeah.

BP: That’s amazing!

JH: That’s not going to happen again. It was gorgeous! It was like taking dictation.

BP: Wow!

JH: Lots of my books come through dreams. I actually dreamt Dalva.

BP: Oh really? Was it hard to get out of that head space of being in a female character?

JH: It was hard to get in her head and hard to get out. Not bad. You know we are all born female, cellular wise. I had five aunts, one mother, three sisters, a lot of female chickens, female dogs. So, it wasn’t too hard. I had to act a certain way. I would lose the voice of Dalva if I got too drunk the night before. I had to monitor my drinking.

photo by Erik Petersen
photo by Erik Petersen for Whitefish Review

BP: How long did it take to write Dalva?

JH: A long time. A year or so.

BP: There seems to be a constant theme in your books that could resemble your life—such as in the characters Swanson, Tristan Ludlow, Brown Dog, and others that are main protagonists in your books. They always seem to be on the periphery of society. They usually are all rebels filled with the Dionysius spirit—intoxicated on Bacchus. They all march to a different drummer. What can you say about these characters and how they relate to you and your own life?

JH: What was that word besides Dionysius? What’s that other word?

BP: Bacchus. Spirit of revelry or fertility of life, intoxicated on life. Kind of like Pan.

JH: True, that is what it means. McGuane wrote a couple lines that you can either do what other people want you to, or you do what you want to do. That’s an easy call. [laughter]

BP: I read an interview with Tom Robbins years ago. The journalist asked him what writers he recommended. He mentioned all of these different authors and one book they were known for, but he said he reads everything that Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jim Harrison ever wrote.

JH: Oh, that’s nice.

BP: Are there any books that you recommend that people should read if they are going to consider themselves a writer?

JH: Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet was the best book, I think. I read it several times when I was young. He was so austere. And he found a noble woman who would support him [laughter], which is good trick. Now are you guys studying literature or environmental?

BP: In journalism right now. I have been out of school a long time but came back again.

JH: Yeah, I like that. I think I quit college a total of ten times. I kept going back.

BP: You went to school with Tom McGuane and Richard Ford at Michigan State?

JH: Yeah. Ford, McGuane and I went back and did a luncheon that cost them plenty. I don’t do anymore presentations. We spoke in front of a couple thousand people to talk about how writers emerge. My dad was on the faculty for a while. He was an agronomist and I was born on a farm, which was delightful—memory-wise. First thing you remember is throwing corn to the chickens and touching a cow’s nose. When I was four or five, my grandfather on that side was a Swedish immigrant. Him and his brothers, Nelson Gustafson Olaf, migrated out of Sweden to avoid the draft and came to America. My grandfather worked for the railroad and could carry two ties at once, which are about six hundred pounds. He would throw the softball out into the cornfield, way out in front of us to go look for it. Swedish fun, hah. [laughter]

BP: Do you have any thoughts about why your books are more popular in France than they are in the States?

JH: [coughing fit] I really have no idea. I took a degree in comparative literature. You just don’t know why. I had one critic tell me it’s because unlike a lot of American authors, I don’t write about New York. They don’t need to hear about New York. They have Paris. I love Paris. I got to know it real well. It was the place to be.

BP: I know from several of your books and interviews that you try to meditate everyday. Do you still try to do that?

JH: Yeah. Look over there. [He points to the Zen Zafu pillows stacked under the shelves.] The trouble is, after that spinal surgery, I can’t sit in the lotus anymore. [He stands up to show us the incision.] It went from my neck to my tailbone.

BP: Oh, wow!

JH: When I had my surgery, I basically had it for my dog because I couldn’t walk her in the morning. I couldn’t walk at all when I had the surgery. The doctors said I wouldn’t recover very well. That’s when I had to go to Mayo for a month. Which is a suck hole. I mean, I hated it. The food was two cubes.

BP: How long ago was your spinal surgery?

JH: It was four years ago. But now when I hunt, I just shuffle. Now I spend a lot of time sitting on logs for an hour when I go hunting. Which is nice. I still am out there. One day I shot a hundred doves, which is sort of unbelievable. She retrieved every one of them that I shot. That kind of dog is invaluable because you have trouble seeing doves in the grass.

BP: It seems like a lot of your dogs have been females?

JH: Yes, except once. I got a bear-hunting Airedale, which I called Hud. He was the only male dog we had. He was a real pain in the ass. He thought he could kick anybody’s ass in the world. He really was a bear dog. Usually most bear hunters use hounds. Bear dogs are a closing-in-dog because they are not afraid of bears and they won’t let the bear move. They are just that way.

BP: What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers coming up today?

JH: Read a great deal. You can’t learn to write unless you are well-read. Like I say to poets; You are responsible for reading all the world’s poetry because how else will you learn to be a poet? Just like a novelist, you must read the best novels of all. When I was in my teens, I read all of Dostoyevsky, which will darken your soul. [laughter] But that is essential. I don’t agree with these MFA programs. People should get out and travel at random everywhere. I don’t see the point of sitting around campus like a full can of worms all stuck together. [laughter]

BP: Do you still stay in touch with Gary Snyder much?

JH: Yeah, but I haven’t had the heart to write him and tell him that my wife died. His wife died in 2006. She had cancer for twelve years. He nursed her for twelve years.

In Alabama they have dogs that are trained now to smell skin cancer. The doctors bring out the dogs and they can detect cancer by smell. They are interesting creatures. Snyder thinks people should have dogs because it reminds them of the wildness in their lives to be around an animal. [He points to a movie poster that has Gary Snyder and him on it.]

The movie I did with Gary Snyder, called The Practice of the Wild, was done at one of our friend’s ranch—Will Hearst. The ranch was 25 miles of empty California seashore. They have a conservation easement so that it can never be developed. So, I go there every Memorial Day on a five-day camping trip. And this year we had a tremendous time because they had two full-grown California Condors. So we opened the back doors and helped release California Condors. They have a nine-foot wingspan. Their wings are so feathered that when they take off you can feel it in your stomach. That was one of the high points in my bird watching.

BP: That would be awesome.

JH: It’s glorious! Occasionally, we do something right, not too fucking often.

BP: Yeah.

JH: I recently watched a movie about Upper Michigan. Before the Civil War there was fifty-mile long virgin forest. Massive white pines. But now they are like stump forests. It’s wilderness they are cutting off. It’s massive stumps. I saw a hole in one of them and wondered if I could crawl into it and sit straight up. That’s my church I went to. The only other person I took there was an Indian Chippewa woman whose only son was dying of AIDS. She said, “Do you have some sort of secret place?” I said, “I do.” So I took her out there. I put her in there for three hours. I could see the scat of mountain lions, bobcats, and black bears.

Wilderness like that still has secrets even though they logged it. Such a gorgeous ode to death. In this one area it has over 1000 acres of choke cherries and sugar plums. And the blooming of 1000 acres is just overwhelming. There’s nothing like it.

BP: Do you still make it back to Michigan? I know most of your books take place there.

JH: I had to sell my cabin for financial reasons. I had that cabin for 25 years.

BP: Is that the same cabin you had when you wrote Wolf?

JH: No. It is in that area. Just north of the Big Two-Hearted River, that Hemingway wrote about. My father was friends with Hemingway’s uncle and he said, “What’s Ernest doing in Europe, fucking around?” [laughter]

BP: I know you have been compared to Faulkner and Hemingway quite a bit. And you mentioned in one of the interviews, “Hemingway’s writing is like a wood stove that doesn’t put off much heat.”

JH: Yeah, he was just a tourist from Chicago. [laughter] I mean he wrote beautifully. Moveable Feast was a beautiful book. I went to Paris to see where he lived and walked and where Rilke lived and walked. It has such a literary past. You should go to Paris sometime and just walk.

BP: I want to.

JH: Don’t go where all the tourists go, though. I got an assignment once from Esquire to trout fish the Seine River. But, there aren’t any trout on the Seine River. It was pretty funny. I just like the idea of being in a little skiff floating down the Seine fly-fishing for brown trout. [laughter] I started fly-fishing when I was six because my Dad was such an ardent fisherman. And then I got my eye put out. Then I started misbehaving. So, I was getting up at 3:30 in the morning as a six-year-old with a little fly rod and off we’d go for the day catching some nice trout. And that was something I wasn’t suppose to do because I would get lost.

EP: Is writing easier now in your life because there are fewer distractions?

JH: I don’t know if there are any less distractions. I have been out here in this studio every morning since my wife’s death and I must say I haven’t got much done. Rene Char, a French poet says, “You have to be there when the bread comes fresh from the oven.” You just gotta keep doing it. It’s like being a photographer—you got to drive around until something catches your eye. Like [Russell] Chatham, when bird hunting, and I can remember him just standing there looking at the landscape. We’re supposed to write poetry to keep the gods alive.

BP: Have you been up to Snyder’s place? Kitkitdizze.

JH: No, I never went up there. Allen gave him that land. Allen Ginsberg was the only one that was really good with his money. And he gave it all away. Allen was a very passionate man. I knew him real well. It’s funny. I went as a poet to this big poetry Festival at Stony Brook. There were 200 poets including international poets. Allen was there. I won the standing poetry contest, but I hurt my leg and couldn’t stand up. I had to use a cane for two days. Ten years later, I saw Allen Ginsberg in New York and he asked me, “How’s your leg doing?” Meaning he remembered.

BP: Didn’t you meet Jack Kerouac?

JH: I met him at the “Five Spot” when I was eighteen.

BP: I think you talk about that in Wolf.

JH: “The Five Spot” was a jazz club. Magnificent jazz there and you could sit at the bar and buy beer and I saw Kerouac and we started talking. On the Road just came out. He’d gotten a new corduroy suit that was already a fucking mess. [laughter] Cause he slept in it a couple times. [laughter] He was in great shape because he was an athlete. He was a fullback. He was a wonderful man, but he was living with his mom and drinking a case of beer a day.

BP: He was only in his fifties when he died, wasn’t he?

JH: It was sad.

BP: Do you still try to take a walk everyday?

JH: Yes, but I can’t walk very well. Walking’s been critical to me all my life because it smooths out my mind. I go for a walk into here. [points to head]

BP: There was a great line you wrote, “The ancient rhythm of walking tends to delight the mind.”

JH: Yeah, it sure does. That was Thoreau’s idea. He wrote a book of essays, Walking. Kierkegaard, too. However your troubles are, a long walk will loosely smooth them out. Equilibrium junk that we have in our body accredits away.

BP: Have you read any David James Duncan?

JH: Yeah, of course. He’s come over here with Chris Dombrowski, who is great poet. He was down here fishing. Chris couldn’t stand the Midwest or the university anymore. But it’s getting too crowded here. Which you don’t sense here on this road. But you do in town in the summer. But, I don’t give a shit. What can I do? [silence]

I talk to my wife sometimes, you know. Actually you would after 55 years, because, well, after she died, I was so depressed I was thinking of suicide, and then her voice came to me and said, “You have two daughters and three grandsons, so you can’t do it.” Because it is selfish, which is true, because survivors of suicide internally think it is their fault.

BP: I remember another time in your life when you were writing Letters to Yesenin that you were thinking about it then too.

JH: I was having a hard time. He [Yesenin] was a Russian. He was a cokehead who married Isadora Duncan, of all people.

[To Erik] Would you mind—in the bathroom up in the corner, there are some yellow paper cups, up in the corner to the right.

EP: Do you want a cup of water?

JH: No, I am gonna have some vodka.

EP: Do you want just one?

JH: Well, unless you guys want some vodka?

BP: It’s alright, Erik. I am good.

BP: Did your wife’s voice come to you when you were sitting here [in your writing studio] or in a dream?

JH: In my studio. I found in Dalva, Naomi was always talking to her husband, which I find is frequently true. The more you hear their voice, you hear it as it exactly is, you know. Little spooky, now of course.

I never wanted her to work because I wanted to bring home the bacon. I wanted to generate the income, which I couldn’t until I was 39. We had ten years we called, ‘The Macaroni Years.’ Because then I wrote Legends—and that got picked up by Hollywood. I was broke before that but [Jack] Nicholson knew and fronted me money to write Legends of the Fall. ‘Cause I was broke and in debt and couldn’t do anything. So he stepped up. We were down in Mexico. You can tell by the way he acts that he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He is just looking around with his sunglasses on. [laughter]

The Whitefish Review always interested me. It’s not all choked on this shit about what I did last summer and taking my kids to the mall. It has a different feeling to it totally. Don’t you think?

EP: Yeah, It does.

JH: My one son-in-law [Max Hjortsberg] is a poet and he has had some poems published in there. I think I got some poems coming out in there. Don’t I?

EP: I don’t know? In the Whitefish Review?

JH: Yeah. I asked my editor to send some. I can’t send them out by myself. It was such a raw experience when I was a younger poet. [Jim takes a sip from his tumbler of Vodka and has a coughing fit]. My flap in my esophagus doesn’t work properly. But, I am fucked if I am going to get surgery. That’s how Edward Abbey died is esophagus cancer. I knew him quite well before he died. He kept telling his wife to quit complaining about her stomachache and then she suddenly died of stomach cancer.

Are you guys married?

BP: No.

EP: I am.

JH: Do you have kids?

EP: We have a six- and a seven-year-old. Two boys.

JH: That’s lovely! I have a brother, a year older than me.

EP: Is it just the two of you?

JH: No, five kids. My sister and father died in a car wreck going deer hunting together.

BP: Which child were you in the configuration?

JH: Number two. My brother worked at the university. Then he started working at Harvard and then he went to Yale. He took over the University of Arkansas system. It was nice when he was at Harvard because he was at a library that had six million books. I could get any book I wanted. I could run around the stacked shelves. He was very good with me. He was the eagle scout and I got kicked out of the scouts.

BP: Didn’t your brother have a big role when you sent off your first manuscript of Wolf out to Simon & Schuster?

JH: Yeah, it was lost in a mail strike. He was such an important figure in New Haven, they let him look through all the mail containers and he found the manuscript.

BP: Do you think there was a bit of serendipity there that helped place you on your career path?

JH: No, I wasn’t taking myself seriously then as a novelist and then it became my day job. It feels good that it started that way. Wolf did pretty good.

BP: It is actually one of my favorites because it reminds me of my life and how I wanted to live in a cabin and see a wild wolf and all that.

JH: Exactly!

BP: I love that book. It means a lot to me. I reread it once a year.

JH: Funny, I saw a wolf on the little two-track near my cabin. She was looking at me. Then I dreamt that she got hit by a car. Then I picked her up and she flowed into my mouth and flowed out my body and then… aah I don’t know if I ate the whole thing, but I jumped up out of bed and went so high I cut my head on the chandelier and I was howling and I ran outside naked. I went howling and all over the yard. My poor lab at the time was scared for days. [laughter] I started howling one day in the car and she jumped way in back. No more Rose.

BP: Rose was the one bit by a rattlesnake, right?

JH: Right. Exactly, yes, that was sad. Such a lovely creature. You can train any dog to do anything, you know? She was a very good bird dog even though she was a retriever. Her ass would wag one way for grouse and one way for woodcock. So I was always ready. [laughter]

You can teach them to do anything, you know. The bartender downtown was a dog lover, so when people weren’t hungry he says, “Jimmy go get your dog.” I go out and get her and I lift her up to the bar and she stands there and eats fries and a cheeseburger.

BP: Where are your masks from? [pointing to doorway]

JH: Mexico. See that wolf mask right behind you? There is a little figurine of a girl across its nose.

BP: [looking out the window] There’s an owl outside in the tree.

JH: A great horned owl. There are three of them around here. My hired hand said, “No one will break into your cabin if they see those masks.” And no one has ever broken into my cabin. They broke into my house down on the border of Mexico. Some Mexican migrants. They took some warm clothes and canned foods.

BP: Do you think they were people coming across and needing help?

JH: Yeah, they come across and I meet them down by the creek and I talk to them and they ask, “Where is Chicago?” And I start to sigh because it is so tragic. Tragic!

BP: Yeah, I grew up in a town that is 50% Mexican, outside of Chicago.

JH: Patagonia is like that too and in the grocery store. It is very touching. I like these people, such hard workers.

BP: We could learn a lot from them. It’s too bad there is so much contention with that and wanting to force them back.

JH: Exactly. What time is it now?

BP: It is 5:15 right now.

JH: Oh, I am going to eat something and go to sleep pretty soon. I nap, then I get up and work again.

photo by Erik Petersen
photo by Erik Petersen for Whitefish Review


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