Sunday, December 1, 2013

Payback Continues – An Interview on River Otter

Last month, Don Travis, the author of The Zozobra Incident and The Bisti Business (Martin Brown Publishers) questioned me about my novel, Cut Hand (STARbooks Press). That so-called interview was a pathetic attempt at payback for me doing a guest blog on his That didn’t come close to equating with my doing an entire post for him (count the words in his contribution … eighty percent of them are mine!) so he’s doing another one this month. What follows is our crossing-of-swords on River Otter.


Travis: Okay, Mark, you used to be a nice guy. What the hell happened?

Wildyr: I don’t like weasels.

Travis: If the readers were here in this room, they’d hear a heavy sigh, an audible sign of my suffering injustice in wounded silence. But they’re not, so lets get on with this thing. I’ll begin with the same question as last time. Why did you writer River Otter?

Wildyr: A couple of reasons. Aside from my interest in Native American cultures, like many other writers, I became a captive of my own novel. I had developed an emotional attachment to the people who populated Cut Hand and felt a need to continue their story through the survivors.

Of course, readers requesting a sequel likely had an influence, as well. After all, these were mostly perfect strangers who had become invested in the characters I’d created to the point they contacted me. That’s a powerful motive for any fiction writer.

Travis: ¨Why was the second book centered on Otter. Wouldn’t it be more natural to write of Cut Hand’s son, Dog Fox?

Wildyr: I considered making this the story of Dog Fox, whom Billy Strobaw renamed Cuthan Strobaw in order to help the boy survive the coming holocaust. But Billy’s widower, Otter, kept insinuating himself into the story to the point that it became his narrative. He was the keeper of Billy’s journal and had lived through all of what Billy and Cut Hand had endured. Besides, the underlying theme of the novel is the change in the social and legal status of deviants. Such a lifestyle was accepted and sometimes honored among many native cultures. Yet, as the tribes became infected with the white men’s “Christian” way of thinking, these men and women found the rock foundations they’d built their lives upon turning to sand.

Travis: Of course, Otter, a blood Indian, taking the white officer, James Morrow, as his mate complicated matters even more so.

Wildyr: Absolutely. White men taking native women might have been relatively common, but it was also widely looked down upon. Imagine how a white man living as a paramour to an Indian man would have been received. With a bullet or a hangman’s noose, most likely. There would have been no tolerance for that whatsoever among the Americans.

Travis: Yet that was true in Cut Hand, as well. Cut Hand was a native warrior. Billy, a white frontiersman.

Wildyr: Very true, but consider the era and the circumstances. In Billy’s time, the Yanube—Cut Hand’s tiospaye or band—was isolated. Billy was the People’s first real contact with Europeans. The tradition of berdaches was well established among the Yanubes and other tribes in the area. Even so, Billy and Cut spent anxious days wondering how the band would regard a red and white union. As it turned out, the Yanube’s understanding of human nature was such that they were accepted … once they had the approval of the chieftain, Yellow Puma, and the shaman, Spotted Hawk.

However, during the timeline of River Otter, Teacher’s Mead is a way station for the stage and not nearly so isolated from foreigners. Morrow Farm, Otter’s and James’s home, is only seven miles from Yanube City and the fort. They have white farmers as neighbors. Altogether different … which is the theme of the novel.

Travis: A reader recently asked me if I have a favorite passage in my novel, The Bisti Business. Do you have a favorite passage in River Otter?

Wildyr: I read your blog post of Thursday, November 28 and saw you picked a contemplative, pastoral scene that comes early in the first chapter, even though you said you didn’t have an actual favorite passage.
Well, I do have a favorite. It is also a quiet, rustic scene. Although it’s appeared in this blog before, I don’t mind reproducing the two paragraphs that come at the beginning of Chapter 4 on Page 25. Otter has gone to a spot on the banks of Turtle Crick seven miles north of Fort Yanube to begin his life with James. Upon leaving Teacher’s Mead earlier in the day, he’s foiled an attempt to assassinate Cuthan (Dog Fox) and ended up killing one of the would-be murderers. Now he arrives at the site of his future home and settles down to await the arrival of James.


I was tired. It had been a long, demanding day. The shooting of a human being took its toll on any caring, feeling man, and I considered myself to be of a sympathetic nature. I picketed the two horses on opposite sides of camp to double the chances of detecting unwelcome visitors. Patch was trained to give warning of predators. The mare was a shadow jumper.

I settled on the coarse blankets of my bedroll and breathed a silent song to the Great Mystery. The spread of the heavens—shot through with glittering stars, both noble and mean—made a vast dome of the black sky. I studied the Seven Persons, which Billy had called the Big Dipper. A faint breeze cooled my face and carried the comforting rustle of swaying boughs gently to my ear. The heavy fragrance of pines on the hummock—so different from the scant perfume of cottonwoods along the crick bank—laid the sharp taste of resin on my tongue, or so it seemed. I stilled my doubts, calmed my breathing, and closed my eyes to slip away into sleep.


Travis: I can see why you selected it. This short scene manages to engage all of the five senses without making a big point of doing so. It could be a study in sensory writing.

Wildyr: Thank you, but flattery doesn’t get you off the hook.

Travis: What do you mean? This more than pays my debt.

Wildyr: If you say so.

Travis: Ingrate.

Wildyr: Weasel.

Note: New posts are published around the first of every month.

Comments are welcome, not only on this post, but also about any relevant subject the reader wishes to discuss.


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