Sundance: A Novel
SUNDANCE is a novel written by David Fuller. It’s brand spanking new and is just in time for Father’s Day. But, hold your horses girls, it’s just as great for women.
Almost everyone remembers the movie BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That Redford face will always be attached to my vision of Sundance. Now, David’s taken this classic story up another notch; one that I think you are going to love!
David Fuller has so graciously offered to answer some questions about himself and his experience writing this amazing novel.
Q:David, have you always been fascinated with the legend of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
Thank you for your kind words, Jean. I am happy to answer your questions, and very glad that you asked.
My high school age son, Mark, asked me a question this past weekend for his history class that put me back in 1969. To brush up on the events of the day, I looked up 1969 and discovered, to my delight, that BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID came out that year. When it came out, I went to see it at the old Edens Theater in Northbrook, Illinois. It made one hell of an impression on me, this very cool film with the coolest movie stars of the day, full of humor and gun battles, more humor, and an ending that wasn’t like anything Big Hollywood Movies had been delivering up to that point. I mean, you don’t kill off Paul Newman and Robert Redford! So yes, from an early age I was fascinated if not with the legend of Butch and the Kid, certainly with the movie, which most of us didn’t question in terms of veracity. We knew movies stretched the truth, and we weren’t concerned if it was real or not, because it was so cool. It wasn’t until I did research for my novel that I learned that the great William Goldman, screenwriter of BUTCH AND THE KID, had done his homework, and what he wrote was structurally true to history. My friends and I quoted lines from the movie ad infinitum, ad nauseum, and, at key life moments, you can still hear me crack wise with “I can’t help you, Sundance.”
The movie is the reason the world knows about Butch and Sundance. There was no coverage of their supposed deaths, as it happened far away, in South America. The letters and documents from Bolivia in 1908 about the deaths of the Yankee robbers did not name them. Also, I read somewhere that their deaths were not reported in the United States until the mid 1930s, so it makes sense that they fell out of the public consciousness. The movie brought them back to us.
Q: How did you go about doing your research? Have you visited the places you are writing about?
I lived in New York City for a brief time after college, young and broke and looking for a job. I had a feel for the city at that time, but not its history. While I have stood in the shadows of buildings and bridges that were built in the early 20th Century, it is difficult to connect modern Manhattan to the Manhattan of 1913. Similarities exist in terms of geography, size, and intensity, of course, but I needed to understand how the city worked at that time. I needed to know about electricity in 1913, transportation, vehicles and horses, and communication. I needed to know about weapons and medicine, neighborhoods, subways, and the bridges and tunnels of that day. That meant I had to immerse myself in research about a very particular New York City. I spent a lot of time perusing photographs of the era, as well. I did the same with the West: Rawlins, Wyoming, the Outlaw Trail, and Browns Park. A great deal of my research was done at my desk, in Santa Monica, California, although I consulted with experts whenever possible.
Q: Did you discover that the body of Longbaugh was missing from the grave during your research or, is this something you had been speculating about all along?
I had no idea that Harry Longabaugh’s body was not found in San Vicente, Bolivia, when I conceived of the story, or even when I started writing the novel. I just assumed Butch and Sundance were killed coming out of a doorway in a freeze-frame, looking a whole lot like Paul Newman and Robert Redford. When I discovered later that their bodies were not where they were expected to be, I found that to be a delightful coincidence. I read Ann Meadows’s book, DIGGING UP BUTCH AND SUNDANCE, and learned that, from the letters of those who had been around during the time Longabaugh and Parker were supposed to have been killed, there were discrepancies surrounding the story of their deaths. This is not unusual, eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable. The fact that certain ‘facts’ are in doubt in no way suggests that Butch and Sundance were not there. But ‘there is that possibility,’ if I may again quote William Goldman.
By the way, Harry spelled his name “Longabaugh.” Other members of his family apparently spelled the name differently, and the Pinkertons wrote his name as “Longbaugh.” I made a conscious choice to spell his name “Longbaugh” in the novel, as I tripped over the extra syllable when reading the name on the page. This also gave me a way to make the character my own. But as you and I speak historically of him, I go by the spelling of his name as he spelled it.
Q: I love that you have managed to make this western into a love story. You must be a romantic at heart. Was it difficult to do this?
This is my favorite question, and I am pleased to get a chance to answer it. I thought of the idea of a Sundance Kid-like character some twenty years ago. I was writing screenplays at that time with my writing partner, Rick Natkin, and we were throwing a football around in my back yard, tossing ideas back and forth, with my dog on the grass waiting for one of us to drop the ball. I had this idea of an outlaw similar to the Sundance Kid (I tried for years to think of a good moniker for the character — at the time I probably subbed in ‘the Moonwalk Kid,’ or something equally terrible, figuring I’d come up with a better name later) who came out of prison in Arizona, a fish out of water in a changed world. A teenaged boy out to make his bones comes gunning for him. Moonwalk Kid (really, my sincere apologies) kills the boy in self-defense and has to run. He runs to New York City and comes up against the Black Hand. That was pretty much it, a cowboy traveling east, going up against Italian gangsters who would one day become the Mafia. Rick loved it. I basically shrugged. I thought it was too obvious and because I knew how the movie would turn out, I wasn’t interested in writing it. Rick said he would write it, and I said, Be my guest. But Rick never did write it, and as the years passed, the Moonwalk Kid (ouch) would come back to me here and there, and some new piece of the story would shift into place. Then I’d file the idea away and go back to whatever I was working on. One night maybe five years ago I woke up in the dark wondering why I was being so damned pure, that I could make him the Sundance Kid if I wanted to. Once I gave myself that permission, well, then it followed that he was in prison when he was supposed to have been killed, meaning he had to be there under an alias. The story became more interesting, but something was still missing, and I was no closer to writing it. After SWEETSMOKE was published, I was 200 pages into another novel, and I was beginning to realize that my publisher was going to hate it. At that time, Sundance began to seriously poke at me, because Etta had stepped into the story. Etta going ahead to New York while Harry was in prison and disappearing down the rabbit hole was the final piece; once Harry had an emotional reason to go to New York, then it worked for me. When I understood that it was a love story, I knew I had to write it. It had the kind of depth, excitement, and resonance that got my juices flowing.
So after two-plus years of work on that other novel, I abandoned it and turned to SUNDANCE. I thought I could research and write it in a year. I was mistaken. It took three.
Q: And, finally, what do you think really happened to the body of Sundance?
The storyteller in me wants to say that he went to England, survived the First World War, and is buried somewhere in the countryside on a rolling green hill under a large tree, forever alongside his beloved wife, Etta.
Because you just never know.
Other than that, I’m afraid I can’t help you, Sundance.
Jean, I thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share some of my stories. It has been my pleasure to join you on your website.
Thank you, David, for being kind enough to answer my questions. I look forward to begin handselling SUNDANCE.