The Man Who Fell from the Sky Q & A
A behind-the-computer visit with Margaret Coel about The Man Who Fell from the SkyQ. Where did you get the idea to write about Butch Cassidy?
A. Straight out of the history books, and I enjoy weaving history into my Wind River novels. After all, Father John is an ex-history teacher, so he and I share a love of history. And writing about history comes naturally to me. It turns out that, in the 1890s, Butch Cassidy spent a lot of time around the Wind River Reservation. During one of the periods in which he tried to go straight (and that going straight bit never worked very well for him) he ranched north of the reservation near Dubois. He was a genial, friendly, happy guy who helped out his neighbors, danced with all the ladies at the Saturday night barn dances, and got along with everybody, Indian and white alike. When he went back to robbing banks and trains, he sometimes hid out on the rez from the law. People loved him. No one ever betrayed him. The more I read about Butch, the more I knew I had to write about him.
Q. How did you bring the 1890s into a contemporary mystery novel?
A. There was an obvious way to do it. Rumors still persist on the reservation that Butch buried some of his loot in the area, so I started thinking: What if someone found the loot? What would that person do to protect his new found treasure? Who would want to take it away? How would the villain go about doing that? As I pondered these questions, the whole plot fell into my head.
Q. Do we get to see Butch in action?
A. Yes. A few chapters are set in the late 1890s, after Butch robs a Union Pacific train and hightails it to the reservation to hide out. What happens during that time affects not only the lives of the people then but of their descendants today.
Q. So was Butch like the man played by Paul Newman in the famous movie?
A. He was certainly handsome like Newman. He was smart--he planned the robberies and the get-aways, and he was never caught. He was generous, a real Robin Hood who shared his ill-gotten gains with ranchers struggling to keep their spreads out of the hands of the banks.
Q. What do Father John and Vicky think about the outlaw?
A. They get to know Butch through the descendants of people who had known him well and have a trove of family stories. I think Father John and Vicky come to like Butch. I know I did. What's not to like? He never killed anyone. He was the good bad guy.
Q. What about the Sundance Kid?
A. Oh, yes. Sundance also makes an appearance.
Q. And Etta Place?
A. In the time in which my story is set, Etta hasn't yet come onto the scene.
Q. Is there a theme to this novel?
A. I never think about themes when I'm writing. I just try to write the best story I can write. But after I've finished a novel, themes often emerge. This novel, I think, explores the power of memory, the unbreakable ties of families over the generations, and the longing to believe, despite evidence to doubt.
Q. So tell us: Did Butch and Sundance die in a shootout in Bolivia?
A. You'll have to read the novel to get my take on it.