52 Pickup 2.0, #35, 9/1/2020
“What made you finally decide to write a book about the Little Bighorn?”
Well, Next To Last Stand isn’t really a book about the Little Bighorn, but rather a book about a painting about the Little Bighorn. I like including bits and pieces of western history in the books, especially when it’s something I didn’t know, or an added perspective or insight I wasn’t aware of. We’re living in an extraordinary time when there are a number of really wonderful non-fiction historians out there putting out books that don’t just follow the historical line and really dig into their subject matter, providing an accessible truth concerning their subjects. It wasn’t that long ago that reading history was a painful affair simply because a lot of it was done by academics who didn’t have a great deal of narrative ability, and I’m not talking about creative non-fiction where you go around making stuff up, but rather the simple ability of telling a good story. As horrid as the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn was, it’s a compelling tale with some amazing individuals on both sides.
One of my favorites as of late would be Nathanial Philbrick’s The Last Stand, which came out a few years back and gives one of the best overall views of what happened that sunny afternoon of June, 1876. Another would be A Terrible Glory by James Donovan and of course the native perspective provided by magnificent writers such as James Welch. Any of these would be marvelous companion pieces to read along with Next To Last Stand.
The question (I haven’t forgotten there was one) is why now? A lot of times for me it comes down to where the characters are in their lives and what kind of balance I want to strike with and for them. Walt was in a dark place and I was thinking it might be nice to distract him with something he can’t resist, research. It’s an investigation, but something Walt really hasn’t dealt with so much—the world of art.
Like I said above, you need to find an access point to any mammoth historical subject. I’m not the stripe of the non-fiction authors I mention, so I needed to find some way of approaching the battle and the Budweiser Painting, as Cassilly Adam’s Custer’s Last Fight is known, fit the bill.
I’d seen the darn thing hanging in every bar, saloon and restaurant in the West and thought it might be interesting to do a little digging and discovered the history of the painting was almost as dramatic as the point in history it depicts. I don’t want to get into it too much because I don’t want to give the plot points of the book away, suffice to say that it was and is a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the good sheriff.
Another point in the decision-making process would be the attempt to try and do something different each time out of the box. After seventeen Walt Longmire books, I’m still attempting to find new things to say and ways to say them not only for the reader but for myself.
I guess I’m just as guilty as Walt in being drawn to research, an investigation or attempt to root out the truth. I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about a subject as broad as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but to me having all the answers isn’t as important as searching for them—kind of like the sheriff.
See you on the trail,
PS: The Next To Last Stand hits the shelves on Tuesday, September 22nd and you can pre-order now.