Five Questions For Author Guy Vanderhaeghe
Zoomer sits down with the writer who reinvented the Western to talk about A Good Man, which combines history with fiction in this novel about the end of the Wild West.
Athena McKenzie: I understand that when you started writing this book you were more focused on Sitting Bull and Major Jack Walsh, but then it turned into something else. How did that happen?
Guy Vanderhaeghe: I think it happened through research. When I started investigating the Major’s life, I discovered that he had been a member of the Canadian militia and that took me to into an investigation of that. From there I came across quite an old book called Troublous Times in Canada that had been written in the early 1900’s about the Fenian raids into Canada and I got intrigued with the Battle of Ridgeway. The Fenians took me to the establishment of the first Canadian secret police at the Western Frontier Constabulary. Then I became increasingly interested in questions which at least to a certain extent are contemporary — the questions of terrorism. Canadians worried about Americans not keeping their eye on the Fenians and the Americans feared that Sitting Bull would use Canada to launch raids into the United States. So the book began to change as I was writing it.
AM: And the book also became more about the character Wesley Case?
GV: I wanted someone who was to a certain degree standing apart from the action but also involved in it. So for instance, he’s a liaison between the American military and Major Walsh in Canada and I also have him as a participant in the Battle of Ridgeway. This character began to interest me in the sense of a man who coming from very privileged circumstances. His father has plotted out a career in politics for him that he doesn’t find congenial. I think one of the things that brought people to the west was an attempt to reinvent themselves — to better their circumstances, escape the past, make a new life for themselves. That’s one of the things that interested me about Case.
AM: Is Weslecy Case a fictional character?
GV: Entirely fictional, as is Michael Dunne and a number of others. Though there are these other characters, like McMicken, who was the real head of the secret police, who is in a sense invented, because very little is known about him. I’ve seen photographs and read about him, so I’ve briefly sort of built up what I would call the skeleton of his life but a novelist has to impute motives, and that kind of thing.
AM: One thing that really struck me in the book is the language and dialogue. How do you capture a historical period in that way?