Author Interview: BUFFALOed

fairlee-winfield1My interview with Fairlee Winfield, author of BUFFALOed, continues today. View a trailer on Fairlee’s blog. The book can be purchased through Amazon.

Is this your first novel?

I wish I could say yes, but I’ll come clean.

Many years ago I wrote a fantastic romance novel set on the Navajo Indian Nation here in Arizona. It was all about the love affair of a liberated woman anthropologist and a handsome Navajo Nation police officer with tawny, taut muscles. You’ve got it. Clichés and shades of Tony Hillerman. Two agents loved it, but fortunately it was never published. I’m not a romance writer.

How long did it take you?

For BUFFALOed . . . It’s hard to set a real time. I had been thinking about the book for years. Off and on I’d write a chapter. I once thought it should be written as a screen play, but until I retired from Northern Arizona University, I only had time to write academic materials that allowed me to become a full professor.

What else have you written?

Lots and lots of academic stuff. Probably over fifty academic journal articles. My two major books are:

Commuter Marriage: Living Together, Apart, Columbia University Press, New York. Trade book with foreign rights sold twice in Japan. Cited as Contemporary Affairs Notable Book of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer and nominated for the American Association of Personnel Administrators book award.

The Work and Family Sourcebook, Panel Publishing Inc., New York.

Have you always aspired to be a writer?buffaloed-cover2

I’ve always loved writing. I won a prize in Junior High School for a comic essay. I won a prize from the Embassy of Argentina for an exposition of their epic poem, Martín Fierro, but until recently I’ve done non-fiction.

Which do you like better, writing fiction or non-fiction?

I like both, Heidi. Right now fiction is more fun.

What other authors have influenced you?

Thomas Berger, who I mentioned before. T. Coragessan Boyle, I love the way he brings the colorful, eccentric characters like Kellogg, Kinsey, and Wright to life. Oh, and my favorite, favorite Annie Proulx. There are so many. I like Rudy Wiebe for his Plains Indians things. I love the Norwegians both past and present: Sigrid Undset, Johan Bojer, Ole Rölvaag. Oh, and Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck. I read constantly.

Are you working on another book?

Two actually. One in well underway: Burma Shave Days and Evangelist Nights. The story of little girl whose family must run from a man with a shotgun during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

The second is will focus on the story of the Cree Indian, Young Boy. I can’t say more now or I might spoil the BUFFALOed story for readers.

They both sound great! Thank you, Fairlee. It’s always fascinating to learn what makes other writers “tick.”

It was great talking to you Heidi. Your questions have given me several important things to think about. I enjoyed meeting you here in Scottsdale for Festival of the West last month. Have a good tour in Montana and many productive writing days.

Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm  Comments (7)  
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Author Interview: Fairlee Winfield

buffaloed-cover1My guest today is Fairlee Winfield, author of the Arizona Authors Award winning novel, Buffaloed, based on the premise that famous Montana cowboy artist Charlie Russell didn’t actually paint the Lewis and Clark mural permanently displayed in the Montana State House.

This is an intriguing hypothesis, Fairlee. Tell us how you came up with the idea.

I wanted to write a story about my Norwegian grandmother’s immigrant experience. She worked in Charlie Russell’s household. When I visited the Charles M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, I could see that the house was exactly as my grandmother described it. There was the kitchen and the bath, the parlor and the dining room, and most especially “the shack” where Charlie painted.

I had plenty of personal material to work with, but I needed a situation to put my protagonist in. Surprisingly I found it in a Wall Street Journal article “Lassos and Lawsuits.” A Russell art expert, Ginger Renner, was saying that no other American artist has been faked as often as Charlie Russell. “In three weeks before Christmas, I had seven fakes come through the door,” she said. That set me on the path of the forgery.

Did you know your grandmother and were you able to talk to her about her experience working in the Russell household?

Oh yes, Heidi, I knew my grandmother closely. In fact, I lived with her for a year while I was in high school. She talked frequently about arriving in Great Falls in the early 1900’s and working for the Russells. My grandmother was only in her teens then, and I believe Nancy Russell became a surrogate mother to her.

Your forward is written by William Carl Andersen. How is he related to you?

I have to confess, Heidi, William Carl Anderson doesn’t exist. I needed someone to tell Ovidia’s story. Someone similar to Ralph Fielding Snell in Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, someone fatuously academic and gullible. Billy is pure fiction.

Interesting concept. You use him as a character in the novel, as the character based on your grandmother relates her story.

Billy is taken in by Ovidia’s story. The reader can identify with Billy, or the reader can suspect the unreliable editorship or the possibly senile narrator.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

The Charlie Russell biographies, of course. Most paint him as a saint, hagiographies really, so they can’t be trusted. Frank Linderman’s recollections were useful. The Russells did use American Indian sign language and that research was interesting. Research on cowboy talk was just up my alley.

How has your background as Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Studies at Northern Arizona University influenced or helped in writing your novel?

Absolutely invaluable. Let’s take the issue of profanity. I’m particularly sensitive to this fairlee-winfieldsince some agents and publishers rejected BUFFALOed because of it. Let’s consider characterization.

Halsey Watson an early Montana newspaper man describing Charlie Russell says, “. . . he rejoiced in the most extensive and foulest vocabulary of any man I have ever known. No exclamation without an oath; no sentence without vulgarity; scarcely an uttered thought without obscenity.”

When both Charlie and Nancy Russell are notorious for their use of obscenities, how can they be authentically portrayed with “oh dear’s,” “goodness me’s, and gosh darn it’s.”

The violation of linguistic taboos carries meaning. Breaking language taboos sets the user apart from the dominant culture and gives the user power. By the early 1900’s the open range of the cowboys no longer existed, but the use of profanity and “cowboy talk” binds them as a group and gives them identity and a more powerful status. These ex-cowboys detest the settlers and the sheepmen (groups that avoid profanity). The ties that bind come from language.

And then, in comes the little immigrant, Ovidia. She learns her English primarily from Nancy and Charlie, but the gotdammits, and sommabitches she uses have absolutely no vulgar meaning for her. She’s not breaking any communal rules. Her only taboos come with Norwegian profanity.

I had a wonderful time thinking and writing about these linguistic issues that are sneakily imbedded in the story.

Have you lived in Montana?

No, Heidi, I’ve never lived in Montana. My mother was born there and I’ve visited. Maybe someday I’ll get to spend more time there.

View a trailer on Fairlee’s blog. The book can be purchased through Amazon.

Join us tomorrow for the “rest of the story” and other works by Fairlee Winfield.

Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 6:53 am  Comments (2)  
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