Fighting The Establishment

Author Robert James Waller

CBS/The Early Show
"High Plains Tango" is the latest in a trilogy of Robert James Waller's stories. It all started 13 years ago with "The Bridges of Madison County," which captivated readers with the story of the passionate love affair between Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson.

"I received thousands of letters," Waller tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. "Many of those letters said, 'Tell us more about Robert and Francesca. So I wrote 'A Thousand Country Roads,' to capture them in their later years, and to capture Robert Kinkaid's illegitimate son, Carlisle McMillan. And now, "High Plains Tango" focuses on Carlisle McMillan.

Click here to read an excerpt.

Waller notes one of the central themes in the book is the fight of McMillan against the "establishment," who are trying to put a highway through a small town, a refuge for an endangered species and sacred Native American land.

"He just doesn't want any part of it," Waller explains. "He's just a quiet craftsman who prefers to work alone. He does not think about progress and those sorts of things. He's trying to do the best bit of carpentry he can do."

Waller points out his novel is about "close tolerances." (Close tolerance is a term in engineering/carpentry, etc., where there are specifications for a job and the finished product must be done within a certain range - a close tolerance.)

He says, "It's about a man who has lost his ability to work close tolerances and his attempt to recapture it and be successful. He finds it a challenge to his manhood, and he has to dip into courage and commitment that he didn't know he had to forge new relationships. It's a book about a man who loses the ability to connect with women, friends and community in a genuine way and has to relearn that."

Describing McMillan, he says, "He's a mix of his mother, who was a cellist and Robert Kincaid the photographer. He combines the best of both. My wife said to me the other day: 'If it weren't for you, I would be out looking for Carlisle McMillan.'

"He's a master carpenter who has lost his skills by working in development projects. Moved to South Dakota; decides to rebuild a home as a tribute to the old man who taught him carpentry, and is happy; He meets a woman who works in a local diner doing very well.

"He gets up one morning, and a cannonball in the form of eminent domain (torn from today's headlines this book is, as they used to say in the old movie trailers): He suddenly is confronted with big business, big unions, locals, all of whom want concrete running right down his throat in a matter of speaking."

As for any more stories about Robert Kincaid, Waller says, "I thought about a prequel that would reach back into the 19th century, but we'll see. Now I'm beginning a long elegant book called, 'Travels With A Sensible Wild Man.'

"My wife once called me a sensible wild man," Waller says, "I decided I'm going to write a book to explain this." He notes he is a combination of the mathematics/economics professor on one side and writer/musician on the other.