All month long, FYA Book Clubs around the world have been reading Stacey Lee's Under a Painted Sky, an unforgettable tale of friendship and adventure, as two girls make their way along the Oregon Trail in the Old West. We're pleased as punch to have Stacey join us today to fill us in on what inspired her novel. Take it away, Stacey!
One of the questions I often receive about Under a Painted Sky is why I wrote a western? The short answer is: my father. He loved western movies. He came to the US from China by himself in 1945. He was eleven. I think he must have envisioned himself as a bit of a cowboy, a solitary figure who has to survive in a hostile country. But the long answer involves books and movies, two of my favorite past times.
1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Despite a flawed and one-note portrayal of Native Americans, McMurtry weaves a masterful portrayal of friendship in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel between two Texas ex-Rangers, Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, who drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana, despite being past their prime. I’ll never forget the day a partner of the law firm where I was working put the book in my hands and said, ‘read this.’ She was my boss, so I didn’t have much of a choice, but the book hooked me from page one. I was engrossed by the interplay between two such different characters— Gus, easy-going and women-loving, and Call, a workaholic man of few words. Also, as the first western I ever read, it affirmed to me that story always trumps genre.
2. Star Wars
Let's be honest. Star Wars is really a western in disguise. Themes of conquering the wilderness and/or subjugation of native peoples? Check. Societies living on the frontier with heroes abiding by their own personal codes of honor or justice? Check. Sweeping panoramic landscapes? Yup.
For me, Star Wars boiled down to friendship. Yes, it’s the ultimate hero’s journey, a calling to slay the dragon, but what ultimately causes Luke to lay down his Jedi training? His friends. And if I had to guess what will turn Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens back to the good side, I’m betting it will be because of friends he didn’t know he had.
3. Thelma and Louise from the eponymous film, starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon
Two women embark on a road trip, but disaster ensues after Louise shoots a man who attempts to rape Thelma. I loved the movie when it came out in 1991, and was tickled when my agent suggested we pitch Under a Painted Sky has a YA Thelma and Louise.
4. Mattie Ross, True Grit by Charles Portis
Fourteen-year-old Mattie (perfectly played by Hailee Steinfeld in the 2010 movie) seeks revenge for the murder of her father, enlisting the help of an ex-lawman and a Texas Ranger. Mattie is one of the few women heroines to grace a western novel. She is shrewd and tenacious and fierce. I bet Sammy and Andy would've liked her a lot.
Thank you for letting me share with you!
Stacey also brought along one of the books she used for research, Rush for Riches by J.S. Holliday, and a hand felted Samantha figure in violin dress with cowboy hat and cowboy boots to give away! (Isn't Sammy the cutest!?)
For a chance to win, simply leave a comment with your favourite cowboy/cowgirl/cowperson, real or fictional. A winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday January 31st. (U.S. only -- sorry, everyone else!) (contest closed)