Night of the White Buffalo Q & A
A behind-the-computer visit with Margaret Coel about Night of the White BuffaloQ. Where did you get the idea for a novel about the birth of a white buffalo calf? Do you get where-did-the-idea-come-from questions a lot?
A. Oh, yes. They are fun because they make me stop and think, "Where did I get that idea?" Ideas for novels don't usually arrive full-blown. In my experience, they come in bits and pieces. For years I have enjoyed visiting friends on the reservation who run a buffalo ranch. I've ridden a flatbed out into the pasture at feeding time, holding on for dear life as the buffalo herd came pounding toward us and my friend forked off bales of hay. I've watched a buffalo calf being born. I've heard lots of stories about living with a buffalo herd in your pasture. They can jump higher than deer, run like lightning, pound through the toughest fences. They are always wild—always themselves. You can't change them, modernize them, domesticate them, turn them into pets, or make them other than who they are. There is something wonderful about that wildness that I wanted to write about.
I had also read about the spiritual connection between the buffalo and the Plains Indians. They see the buffalo as a gift from the Creator to sustain their lives, which was certainly the case in the Old Time when buffalo provided all of life's necessities: food, clothing, shelter, tools. (And buffalo meat is delicious!) And the birth of a white buffalo calf has always been considered a sign from the Creator that he has not forgotten his people, that he is still with them. It is a momentous event that can bring pilgrims from all over and change lives. So bits and pieces slowly began to coalesce into the idea for Night of the White Buffalo.
Q. You have the idea. You say "I am going to write a novel about the birth of a white buffalo calf." Then what?
A. I begin every novel by asking the "what if?" questions. What if a white buffalo calf were born on the reservation? What if this sacred animal were born on a ranch run by whites? What if the white rancher is shot to death? What if thousands of people come to see the white calf? What if the entire reservation is turned upside-down, Arapaho against white, Arapaho against Arapaho? What if Vicky Holden and Father John O'Malley find themselves in the midst of the chaos? The story came from the answers to those questions.
Q. Any particular challenges in writing this novel?
A. Every novel has its own challenge, and the challenges are never the same. They come from the story you are trying to tell. Bottom line is, you want to tell each story in the way that will keep the reader reading. Usually I can tell if I've gone off track. If I'm bored with what I've just written, I know for a fact the reader will be asleep. So I delete and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I always admonish myself: This is so interesting! Don't make it boring!
Q. How do you like the results for Night of the White Buffalo?
A. I think the novel turned out to be what I had wanted it would be. A story that revolves around the culture and spiritual beliefs of the Arapaho, but is a mystery—a twisting, surprising, page-turning one, I hope.