Interview with Andrew Joyce. And Danny the Dog.
Today, we’re sitting down with the authors Andrew Joyce and Danny the Dog for a joint interview. Andrew is the author of Yellow Hair and Danny writes a monthly column to keep his legions of fans informed as to his latest adventures. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
AJ: It’s a pleasure to be here.
DtD: Me too . . . I guess.
Tell me a little about yourselves and your backgrounds?
AJ: I’m a writer, which surprises me greatly. For the first three years of my writing career, I never referred to myself as a writer. It was only when the royalties started coming in and I could quit my day job that I dared think of myself as such.
DtD: I’m a dog.
What book or books have had a strong influence on you and/or your writing?
AJ: The works of Louis L’Amour and Robert B. Parker.
DtD: The genius writings of Danny the Dog.
AJ: Excuse me, Barb, but I need to speak to Danny for a minute.
AJ: What are you doing, Danny? You don’t seem to be taking this interview seriously. You’re giving one-word answers and when asked about your favorite authors, you say “yourself”. I know all us writers think of ourselves as our favorite author, but you’re not supposed to say that out loud.
DtD: Whatever! May we continue with the inquisition?
AJ: I’m sorry, Barb.
That’s okay, Andrew. Danny and I understand one another. So let’s carry on. Going back to the beginning, what is it that got you into writing?
AJ: One morning, about six years ago, I went crazy. I got out of bed, went downstairs, and threw my TV out the window. Then I sat down at the computer and wrote my first short story. I threw it up on the Internet just for the hell of it, and a few months later I was notified that it was to be included in a print anthology of the best short stories of 2011. I even got paid for it! I’ve been writing ever since.
DtD: One day, about five years ago, Andrew went out and left the computer on. He was always complaining about how hard it is to write anything decent, so I thought I’d show him how easy it is when one has talent. Is that a long enough answer for you, Andrew?
Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
AJ: I prefer to write in the early morning hours when things are quiet. I usually get up around 2:00 a.m. and go to work. The commute is not long . . . only a few steps to my computer.
DtD: I have to wait until Hemingway over there goes to bed.
AJ: By any chance are you referring to me?
DtD: Yes, but only in an ironic way.
AJ: You see what I’ve got to put up with?
Now boys, play nice. You are both professionals. What would your fans think?
AJ: You’re right. I’m sorry.
DtD: I’m the only one with fans around here. I’d say that Andrew’s been riding my coattails for years—if I had coattails. But for your sake, I’ll try to be well-behaved.
That’s a good doggie. Do either of you have any hobbies? Or anything you like to do in your spare time?
AJ: I like to read history and do research for my next book. I also like to watch old movies from the 1930s and ’40s.
DtD: My hobby is looking after His Nibs here. I’m always getting him out of trouble or bailing him out of jail after one of his benders. I call him Hemingway because he drinks like Ernie did. You should see ol’ Andrew when he’s had a snoot full.
What are you two working on at the moment?
AJ: This interview.
AJ: High five, Danny.
DtD: Next question, please.
AJ: Hey, Danny. Don’t leave me hangin’.
DtD: Pleeease, Barb, the next question!
How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use a set formula?
AJ: I usually sit down to write a book with no idea where my characters will lead me. I start out with (I hope) a killer first sentence and the last paragraph of the book. Then I set out to fill the in-between space with 100,000 words. I find that the easy part. Sometimes I will bring my characters to a certain place, only to have them rebel when we get there. They’ll tell me they want to go somewhere else and take off on their own. I have no choice but to follow.
DtD: That was a pretty artsy-fartsy answer.
AJ: Was not.
DtD: Was too.
AJ: Was not!
DtD: Was too. Was too. Was too!!!
Boys! Sit. Stay. Now, if you can’t behave, I’ll have to end the interview, and there will be NO BISCUITS for either of you. Now—as a child, Andrew what did you want to be when you grew up? And, as a puppy, Danny, what did you want to do?
AJ: I never wanted to grow up, and I believe I have succeeded.
DtD: I think he has, too. As a puppy, I only wanted to survive Andrew.
What would we find under your bed?
AJ: The monster that lives there.
DtD: When it thunders, me (and Andrew’s monster).
If you could travel into the past or future, where would you want to go? Why?
AJ: Egypt. I’d like to see the Great Pyramid being built.
DtD: The caveman days. I think it would be super-duper to be in a time before dogs allowed themselves to be “domesticated.”
What has been your worst or most difficult job?
AJ: Some jobs I’ve had in the past have been real doozies. I’ve done back-breaking physical labor. I’ve worked as a waiter for a short spell and hated every minute of it. I worked with and breathed in chemicals that have done a number on my lungs. But the worst job I ever had was when I was eighteen. I worked at a McDonalds for one day. At the end of the shift, I walked out never to return. I didn’t care about the pay I was owed or anything else. I just wanted out of there.
DtD: Looking after Andrew.
What group did you hang out with in high school?
AJ: I had no friends in high school. Still don’t . . . come to think of it.
DtD: At last . . . Andrew has said one true thing! I, of course, had no need of schooling. I was born brilliant. Not to mention wonderful, marvelous, and good looking.
What is something that you absolutely cannot live without?
DtD: If you don’t mind, Barb, I’ll field this one for both of us. For Andrew, it’s vodka. For me it’s Andrew.
AJ: Aw shucks, Danny.
Thank you for stopping by. It’s been a little different. However, I believe we’ve learned a few things about your writing processes . . . and other things as well.
AJ: Thank you for having us
DtD: Yeah, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Note from Barb:
I’m a fan of Andrew Joyce’s westerns. Beginning with his first book, best-seller Redemption, his continuing stories of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are addictive additions to the western genre. So I was a bit nervous when I started Yellow Hair, which Andrew warned me would be a very different story indeed. Where his other westerns had been character-driven fiction in a historical setting, Yellow Hair is pure history in a minimally fictional setting.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Andrew told me it would be a darker read, plus “I just want you to know there are numerous references to buffalo chip fires.” He wasn’t kidding about the buffalo chips (and no—although my UK neighbors cheerfully consume an array of potato chips with the most unlikely flavorings ranging from pakora to haggis—these chips do NOT involve potatoes).
Andrew Joyce doesn’t so much take on the stereotypes, as he presents a revisionist history of epic events from a human scale. But in the light of recent elections, I also have to say that it feels like a cautionary tale. As Americans, we’re invited to examine our past, and to take an honest look at what happens when we stop viewing other people—their lives, their looks, their cultures—as having the same level of human value as our own.
Blurb: Yellow Hair by Andrew Joyce
Big Jim sat straight and proud as he inspected the four columns, making sure they were evenly spaced. After nodding his head in approval, he raised his right arm, and in a forward, arching motion, he said, “Follow me.”
With that one action and those two simple words, Jim Cody’s infamous train that departed in the spring of 185 from Westport, Missouri, and traveled in to legend, started west, putting into play events that culminated in the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.
Through no fault of his own, a young man is thrust into a new culture just at the time that culture is undergoing massive changes. It is losing its identity, its lands, and its dignity. He not only adapts, he perseveres and, over time, becomes a leader—and on occasion, the hand of vengeance against those who would destroy his adopted people.
Yellow Hair documents the injustices done to the Sioux Nation from their first treaty with the United States in 1805 through Wounded Knee in 1890. Every death, murder, battle, and outrage written about actually took place. The historical figures that play a role in this fact-based tale of fiction were real people and the author uses their real names. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century.
This is American history.
Andrew Joyce is the recipient of the 2013 Editor’s Choice Award for Best Western for his novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Book Title: Yellow Hair
Author: Andrew Joyce
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: William Birch & Assoc.
Length: 498 pages
Release Date: September 16, 2016
My review: 5 out of 5 stars for Yellow Hair by Andrew Joyce
They say that history is written by the victors. When that happens, it sometimes takes fiction to see the truth through the fates of individual characters. Gabriel Garcia Marquez used fiction in One Hundred Years of Solitude to tell the suppressed truth about the United Fruit Company’s history of exploitation in Columbia. Thomas Pynchon used it in Gravity’s Rainbow to deconstruct World War II victories (by fictionalizing the V-2 rocket that hit the Rex Cinema in Antwerp on December 16, 1944, killing 567 people, the most killed by a single rocket during the entire war).
Similarly, Andrew Joyce takes on a monumental task, as he tells about the forces that dealt death to settlers, native peoples, and government forces. And he pulls no punches, from describing the diseases introduced by early European arrivals (plagues which reduced North American population by as much as 90-percent), to the differences in cultures, to the profound conviction that white men held a fundamentally god-given superiority that justified every deceit and depredation.
Ostensibly, Yellow Hair is the story of Jacob Ariesen, whose father makes the decision to join a westward bound wagon train in 1850. Although friends warn them of the dangers from “savages”, the forces which decimate the train are the harsh realities of a natural world. The former shopkeepers, servants, and city dwellers face a grim realization that they must maintain a grueling pace across the plains in a race where failure to make it through the mountains means freezing to death at the end—if the dust, thirst, accidents, drowning, and most deadly of all, cholera haven’t killed them first.
Yellow Hair follows Jacob’s life from boyhood, to the loss of his family, his rescue and adoption by the Dakotah who named him Yellow Hair. As time goes on, Yellow Hair is buffeted by the political forces, hatred, and history of the times, becoming both a witness and a victim.
One of the things I most enjoyed about Yellow Hair was watching how Andrew Joyce clicks through the tired old list of Indian tropes and methodically subverts them. For example:
- Indian Princess saves the hero: except the princess is actually a warrior who had a vision of the young white man she would first save and then teach.
- Coolest Names Ever: except poor Jacob gets handed the truth-in-advertising “Yellow Hair” and told he has to keep it even when the other kids are trading their childish names for cool monikers like Bear Claw and Crazy Horse.
- Tipi, tomahawk, and totem pole: except Plains tribes didn’t carve totem poles, while totem-carving Northwest tribes lived in lodges. But in his wanderings, Jacob/Yellow Hair lives in both, after starting his life in his family’s peculiar semi-underground dwelling.
For most books I review, the first thing I consider is character development. But that’s virtually irrelevant here. Jacob/Yellow Hair’s role is never meant to be a study of one man’s nature and character. The scale here is epic, and thus the ‘characters’ which develop, grow, and change are actually the political, social, and economic forces that motivate and are used as justification for the bloodshed, cruelty, and inhumanity. Ultimately, Yellow Hair is a mirror. “This,” it tells us. “This is what we did. Despite what your history books told you, this is who we are.”
There are a few things I didn’t understand or appreciate in Yellow Hair. For example, all of the tense, time, and POV changes in the inserted backstories of the seven families accompanying the Ariesen’s ill-fated wagon train were interesting and gave a broader outline of the myriad reasons that brought people to such an extreme step. But I still felt they interrupted the story, and might have been better placed at the beginning.
Another thing which I’m sure had an important point to make but I just found annoying was that Jacob’s parents were never referred to by their first names until the last time each was mentioned. Even though I found the constant ‘Mister’ and ‘Missus’ off-putting, I have a feeling that this was deliberate, especially as it resonated against an overall theme of fathers and sons. Jacob lost his father to a stupid accident, but at each step along the way he acquires new father figures until he’s ready to step into that role himself—only to have it become a reverse process of losing his ‘sons’. I couldn’t quite connect it, but perhaps this is meant to resonate with the image of the US Government as the ‘Great Father’ who cheats and murders his Indian ‘children’, and to contrast with the ‘Grandmother’ image of the Queen of England and her government’s treatment of native peoples (at least as applied in Canada).
Overall, I found Yellow Hair to be an immensely readable epic. It was like reading about the Titanic—a fascinating, compelling, study of people for readers who already know about the inevitable disaster looming. The meticulous and in-depth research that went into the book—from studying the Lakota language to incorporating real people, incidents, and events—illuminates every page and conveys the powerful sense that THIS is the real history of the West.
Make no mistake—Yellow Hair is a long, often brutal tale filled with heartbreak, tragedy, and lots of buffalo chips. But despite the flaws I might see, I think this is Andrew Joyce’s masterpiece. Not only would I give it five stars, but I would also recommend it without hesitation to readers looking for an epic story that is actually the real history.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**