I agreed to read from my books at the Gallatin History Museum Kid’s Day — part of the Annual Bozeman Stroll — tomorrow afternoon from 1 to 3. The Museum will be open to families for some holiday treats, stories, and holiday picture opportunities in the jail cells. Representatives from the Gallatin County Sheriff’s department will be on hand, and kids can check out a real patrol car. The event is free and all are welcome.
Of course, I’m always eager to read from my books, but usually I’m addressing an adult audience so I’ll have to adjust thing a bit. Fortunately one of my books, Macon’s Perfect Shot, is a middle-grades novel.
Macon tells the story of a 14-year-old boy’s trip Yellowstone Park in the 1870s. The description on the back cover says:
[Macon]must earn enough money so his widowed mother won’t have to give up his baby sister for adoption. He sees a chance when Uncle Bird Calfee offers him a job caring for art equipment on a trip to the brand new Yellowstone Park. Macon’s mother fears marauding Indians, boiling geysers and ferocious bears, but Uncle Bird promises her he’ll stay on routes that avoid danger, and he’ll teach Macon to shoot his father’s rifle. Macon learns to be a sharpshooter while he and Uncle Bird travel meeting colorful characters and seeing hot springs, waterfalls, and canyons. This new skill becomes crucial after Uncle Bird falls into a geyser and Macon has to figure out how to get his scalded friend home. The only way is to head straight toward a band of murderous horse thieves.
Macon has plenty of adventures to choose from, and I’ve been going through the book picking some of them to read tomorrow. A thing that struck me as I made my choices is how many of the chapters in Macon are based directly on stories from my collection of more than 350 first-person accounts of early travel to Yellowstone Park. Some examples:
- “Camp Rattles” — Takes place at a site at the the mouth of Yankee Jim Canyon described by Seth Bullock who visited the park in 1872 and combines it with a bear encounter described by Calvin Clawson in 1871
- “Geyser Land” — Is based on numerous descriptions of the Upper Geyser Basin in the 1870s and recounts a story told by Henry “Bird” Calfee about saving a man who fell into a geser about 1872.
- “Elk Hunting” — blends several accounts about pursuing Wapiti in 1874 as told by the Earl of Dunraven.
Of course, there are many more examples. I think one of the best things about Macon is that it provides a realistic portrayal of what it was like to visit Yellowstone Park in the 1870s when it was still a remote wilderness. That’s because the book is based on a full decade of research.
Another interesting thing about choosing readings for the event tomorrow is that it gave me the opportunity to think about differences between fiction and non-fiction. Many of the adventures in Macon are based on stories published in my other two books, Adventures in Yellowstone and The Stories of Yellowstone so I could compare them directly. In fact, the general plot of Macon is patterned after Henry “Bird” Calfee’s tale of his trip to the park. Like the fictional Macon, Calfee travelled to Yellowstone when the park was brand new with a single companion, his companion fell into a geyser trying to rescue a deer, and the pair encountered a murderous band of horse thieves while they made their way home.
Of course, the fictional Macon had even more adventures than his real life counterparts, and the opportunity to combine the stories of several people into a single character allows fiction to have larger and more complex stories than real life.
Perhaps more important, fiction allows an author to imagine a characters’ inner lives — their feelings, emotions and motivations — things that real people often leave out of the stories they tell about themselves. Some people say this imagining lets the fiction writer provide a truer picture of life that a writer who sticks to the facts.
I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s fun to compare the versions of stories that people who lived the adventures told about themselves with the versions I imagined for them as a fiction writer. And, while I didn’t plan to do it, I’ve provided opportunities for you to decide for yourself.
All three of my books are for sale at the Gallatin History Museum Bookstore (and at your favorite bookseller, on line or brick and motor). Buy them for yourself and start comparing different versions of the same stories. And remember, buy them for your family and friends. They make great holiday gifts.
I’d be delighted to sign copies at the Bozeman Stroll on Saturday and hope to see you there. If you miss it, don’t worry. I’ll be back to sign books at the Gallatin History Museum author event on Sunday.