Dec11

Goodreads Interview

 

1. What can you tell us about your book, Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley’s World?

 

It’s been structured largely as a narrative, written in the third person without interior monologue, and as an easy read that moves along quickly. And it’s short – just 148 pages. The novel is built around Annie’s real life events, but does deviate in places and doesn’t try to account for her entire life. Its principal focus is on the years she spent with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the fame and acclaim it brought her. A second and very important emphasis is on the loving marriage between Annie and her manager and husband of 50 years, Frank Butler.

 

 2. I imagine you researched a lot on this. How much time did you spend researching and what interesting things did you find out?

I did read a few biographies – one or two were especially good – as well as do considerable research on the Internet. Hard to calculate the time spent, but the core research took place over a few weeks. One of the more interesting findings: Compared to Buffalo Bill Cody, there is relatively little written about Annie. Another is a variety of discrepancies that come up in accounts of her life: while the consensus is that she married Frank Butler in 1876, when she was 16, one or two accounts claim they might not have married until much later, around 1884. Knowing her background, I felt the former was far more likely.

  1. What is it that intrigues you about the Historical Fiction genre?

The ability to put the reader back in another era, in which so many things are different: dress, manner of speech, entertainment, transportation, etc. I’ve been particularly taken with some novels I’ve read about old-time New York City. As a writer, it’s a fascinating challenge to make history come alive. And it can vary in approach. You can write around a real person, as I did, or invent someone and set them in that era.

  1. What do you believe is the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction?

They’re hugely different, and I have a pretty good perspective after a career as a print journalist where I was consumed with writing and editing non-fiction. Non-fiction is concerned chiefly with facts (reporting) and narrative; the principal challenge is organization of the material and flow.

With fiction, far more is involved that relies on imagination – character, scene and setting, interior monologue, etc. Plotting a novel is also far more complex than writing a magazine piece, for instance.

  1. How have you yourself found fiction to write compared to non-fiction?

Considerably harder, especially when it comes to creating scenes, dialogue and character. I wrote a non-fiction business book many years ago, and while that required a lot of interviews and organization, there wasn’t any call on imagination and relatively little on creativity. And I have a couple of unfinished thrillers from many years ago that I felt were well-written but not well-plotted, which really hurt them.

  1. How has having been a journalist for 35 years helped you in the transition to being an author?

I was an author in the middle of my journalism career, with the non-fiction book mentioned above. But just being in the habit of writing and editing does make the writing process easier – kind of like riding a bike, to use a common example. Doing it more makes it more routine.

On the other hand, journalists are used to more immediate gratification: depending on the cycle of the organization you’re with, you might be creating something hourly, daily, weekly or monthly (or perhaps on occasion even less frequently). But writing a novel takes patience some journalists may not have. It’s difficult to think of taking a year or even a number of years to finish something.

  1. Where you nervous, anxious or perhaps feeling something else when you realized you’d just written a novel?

None of the above – perhaps not elated, but satisfied and proud of being able to finish the task I set out on many months earlier.

  1. Why do you believe there was so little prominent women of the Wild West?

That’s a very good question, and it’s really a subtext to my decision to focus on Annie Oakley. Women just weren’t allowed to have positions of authority – they were homemakers, or whores, or women who traveled in wagon trains to the West. In Annie’s era, it was entertainers who were famous, like Lillie Langtry or Jenny Lind, or “characters” like Calamity Jane or “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, who parlayed new-found wealth to become a leader in Denver society.

Look at “westerns” as we’ve come to know them: The men are heroes, or villains, and the action usually revolves around them. It’s pretty hard to find a woman who doesn’t fit into one of those categories cited above.

  1. What do you find to be the hardest about writing?

Another difficult question – the answer is very individual. For me, it’s about inspiration. For years, I’ve been spontaneously writing reviews of movies or TV shows I’ve seen. There, the hard part is trying to convey ideas and themes without reciting a plot; it requires stepping back and putting the work in context. But the work has to inspire that review.

Another hard part is rewriting or editing yourself. There’s a lot less time to do that in journalism, especially under tight deadlines. But for fiction or longer non-fiction pieces, it’s about polishing a phrase or finding a different word, for instance. I probably do less of that than a lot of writers – I generally am happy with first drafts – but in fiction, I think it’s essential. Lots of prominent writers over the years have talked up the value of rewriting.

10. I see you also wrote a book of poetry. What can you tell us about that and do you also consider yourself a poet?

I suppose that if you’ve written a poem, you can call yourself a poet – but it should be a lot more involved than that. In my case, my book was a collection of poems in free verse that I’d written over more than 35 years. Some had been published in anthologies or local newspapers, but never in any prestigious publication. I actually wrote a few dozen more in the months leading up to publishing that volume in 2009, and it was interesting to compare my “new voice” with much older poems. In general, I liked my newest work better than the old. I thought it was more original, and more evocative.

So, am I a poet? Yes, but I use that term gingerly. If you apply the term to people who spend much of their lives working on and publishing poetry, I’m not.

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