IFOA: Why did you choose the “Wild West” as a setting for your book?
Natalee Caple: I chose, partly, to do a Western because I was living in the West and the connection between landscape and culture was palpable and awesome. Awesome to see coyotes hunting in my backyard and grizzly bears ambling through the trees beside the highway. To get stuck because 30 elk are hanging out at the bottom of the street. The indigenous presence and the land as contested history is much more clear in the West in some ways because of the bigness of nature (the Rockies for example) and the visible encroachment on nature that cities represent. While in the West, I suddenly saw how diverse and how magical the people and their stories are. I felt like so much more diversity existed there than I had seen in literature and I wanted to add those stories in.
IFOA: What kind of research did you need to do in order to write In Calamity’s Wake?
Caple: I lived in Calgary and Canmore for seven years and travelled to small townships and to the badlands of Alberta and across the prairies many times. I researched a lot online and at museums like the Glenbow. I explored the Blackfoot land and history at the fabulous Blackfoot Crossing cultural centre and photographed the plants and land. I did a lot of seeing, smelling and tasting. I read and watched Westerns and studied the genre and feminist theories about writing. It was a massive process.
IFOA: Why did you choose to use no quotations in the text?
Caple: That’s an interesting question. I was very interested in the rhythm and sound of the book. I was trying for a very fluid, highly simplified punctuation style that embodied some of the magic of the story in a very natural way. Quotation marks seemed to interrupt the text, and I really wanted the reader to fall in and swim with the language. I think the style will work for some people, and for others it won’t, but for me, it helped maintain a certain suspended disbelief and aided in the poetic rhythm I was trying to balance.
IFOA: What is the most compelling thing that you learned about Calamity Jane?
Caple: Well, that it was impossible to ascertain anything about her for sure, not even her birth date or who she was at birth or even if there was only one of her. There is so much about her that is braided into dime novels and Wild West shows, movies and comic books. Biographers lied and she told her story many different ways. But she was kind. She risked her life over and over again to care for people that other people had abandoned. She was unconcerned with violent heroics but deeply concerned with precious bodies.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: “If I lived in Deadwood I would be…”
Caple: …the luckiest writer in the world!