Interview with Jeffrey Marshall

Why write a book about Annie Oakley?
She's a fascinating figure in a wonderful period in American history, before moving images (mostly, anyway) and when the West was truly the frontier. I started to research a book about Buffalo Bill Cody and quickly realized two things: 1) There is a lot written about Cody and his Wild West Show, both fiction and non-fiction, and 2) Annie Oakley really was the star of the show, and was an international celebrity who wowed them in Europe. I didn't really know much about her and her life, and as a former journalist, my curiosity was piqued.
The book marries fiction and biography - can you really put them together?
I think you can. The novel is structured largely as a narrative, written in the third person without any interior monologue. It's a quick and breezy read with a strong narrative flow, yet gives readers a strong sense of Annie and her times. Its principal focus is on the years she spent with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and the fame and acclaim it brought her. A secondary and very important emphasis is on the loving marriage between Annie and her manager and husband of 50 years, Frank Butler.
What is it that intrigues you about historical fiction?
It's the ability to put the reader back into another era, in which so many things are different: dress, manner of speech, entertainment, transportation, etc. I've been particularly taken with some novels I've read about old-time New York City. As a writer, it's a fascinating challenge to make history come alive. And it can vary in approach: you can write around a real person, as I did, or invent someone and set them in an era in which you've done extensive research.
What is your writing process?
As a career journalist (now retired), I learned to write around all kinds of distractions, especially noise, and I tend to write quickly, without a lot of extensive revising afterward. Some of that translates into my fiction writing, though there are now very few distractions. Like many writers, I like to work in the morning, for a few hours a day, and will often start the next day by reviewing some of the previous day's work and thinking about tweaks. I work on a computer - writers who claim to be working on typewriters (or longhand) are Luddites! I can't imagine ever going back to a typewriter.
What are some of the differences between writing non-fiction and fiction?
They're really very different and I have a good perspective after a long career in journalism. Non-fiction is concerned chiefly with facts (reporting and research) and narrative; the principal challenges are organization of the material and flow, as well as accuracy.
Fiction relies far more on imagination - character, scene, dialogue, etc. Plotting a novel is also far more complex than writing a magazine piece.
People who've seen "Annie Get Your Gun" have a view of Annie Oakley - is it accurate?
Hardly. Annie was far from the brassy Ethel Merman type, or Barbara Stanwyck, who portrayed her in the movies. She was a shy, quite religious woman, born as a Quaker, who married the love of her life (a fellow marksman) at age 16 and was married to him for the rest of her life. But as a performer, she was anything but timid - she put on quite a show, and audiences loved her!
Do you think women from the West in that era have been given short shrift?
I do, but Annie wasn't from the West, even though much of the promotional material made it appear that she was. She was born poor in western Ohio just before the Civil War, and none of her six siblings acquired any fame.
Part of the reason we know so little about women of that era is that they weren't public figures - men controlled government and business, and western women were homemakers, schoolteachers or (too often) prostitutes forced to turn to the world's oldest profession to get by. The most prominent women of the era were entertainers like Lillian Russell, Jenny Lind or Annie.
Was there anything unusual about the writing of the novel and the way it was structured?
Absolutely. When I started, I wanted to create someone of an episodic "memoir," in which I would have Annie's voice taking us through the various stages of her life and career. And that's the way my first draft was done. But it was hard, as a 20th Century, educated man, to re-imagine the way she would have spoken, and friends and family who read early sections were critical of some of that "voice." When I showed some chapters to an agent, she was firmly opposed to the "memoir" approach, which she felt wasn't authentic. At that point, I decided that it was a good idea to switch gears and change to a third-person narrative approach, and to adopt a more linear timeline. So, I wrote through what I had done and rearranged some of the chapters, and I'm convinced the result may not be as "novel" as I'd hoped, but better for readers.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Connecticut, and was blessed with college-educated parents who put a huge premium on reading. I was heavily exposed to classics, and fell in love with writing and with "literature." I wasn't an English major in college, but a history major who took quite a few English courses. That led me to journalism, which was a wonderful career, and journalism teaches you a great deal about the basics: grammar, structure, organization, etc.
What made you become an indie author?
Interesting question. Essentially, I was disenchanted with the conventional publishing route and the notion of prostrating myself before publishers for untold months, hoping for a "yes." Self-publishing eliminated those time problems. I'd already spent about two years getting the book ready for publication, and I simply couldn't bring myself to go through the wringer trying to get published the conventional way, which is heavily skewed to big names and celebrity authors. First-time novelists are too risky for most publishers.
But I've been discouraged by the prevailing notion that self-published books aren't worth reviewing by mainstream media - the idea being that if it was any good, why don't you have a publisher? Those of us who've made a living by writing - and this is my third book - are getting lumped into a group that may have never published a word.
Published 2014-11-06.
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Books by This Author

Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley's World
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 39,720. Language: English. Published: November 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Western & American frontier
'little miss sure shot" re-creates the life of legendary sharpshooter annie oakley. the book is framed largely around actual events and timelines but imagines the places she saw, conversations she had and people she met. the novel spotlights annie’s years with buffalo bill’s wild west show, which catapulted her to international fame in the late 1880s, and details some of her amazing skills.