Castle Butte is my twenty-seventh western/frontier novel, my eighth book with Five Star, and my second young adult novel. I wrote it in 2016, and it came out in May of 2018. During the time I was working on this novel, I did the proofreading on Good Water, my previous YA novel, which went on to win a couple of small awards, and I felt encouraged to write another story in this line.
In Castle Butte, I chose to write about a young man who has a derelict father and a restless, rebellious older brother. When the older brother leaves home and the father dies, young Alden Clare has a great deal of responsibility to assume. At the same time, he has an impatient girlfriend, Claudette, who wants to leave home and start a household. He does not feel ready for domestic life, so Claudette goes on to other opportunities, which include a baby with Alden’s best friend and cohabitation with Alden’s brother. Alden is not able to hang onto the family property, so he works for low wages and hopes to have his own land some day. He also feels an obligation to help Claudette when misfortunes strike.
Meanwhile, Alden meets a hardscrabble nester girl who has a gruff father, so he has an obstacle there. On the positive side, this girl, Bonnie, is not in a hurry to have a family, so she and Alden have good compatibility in that way. As the story moves along, however, Alden learns that Bonnie’s father has a criminal past, and the people who carry a grudge against him also intersect with Claudette’s life.
I wrote this novel with some basis of personal experience and conviction, as I also knew the problems of seeing friends and family deteriorate, lose their resources, and squander their opportunities through substance abuse, combativeness, impetuousness, and early parenthood. I felt that my experience helped make the story real.
In order to write this work, I went on a field trip, as I often do when I am gathering material. The place name of Castle Butte is one that I came across quite a while back, when I was first looking at old maps that I return to with frequency. I took a tour of the area between Shawnee and Hartville when I was working on Coyote Trail in 1997, and I visited the area more than once when I was doing field research for Black Hat Butte in 2001. As I planned this novel, I wanted the place name of Castle Butte to be prominent, and I wanted the butte itself to represent something like the aspirations in the protagonist’s life. So I took another tour of the area.
I began by spending the night at my cabin east of the Rawhide Buttes. The next day, I drove around the south end of the buttes and continued north along the Silver Springs Road. I had driven this road before, but the country became more interesting and more detailed when I saw it as the place for my story. Among the sites I saw was the Mother Featherlegs monument, a modest memorial to a frontier madam who was killed by a treacherous associate in 1879. Her story is a colorful anecdote in a chapter of Wyoming history when the Cheyenne –to-Black-Hills Stage route ran on both sides of the Rawhide Buttes. I ate lunch in this peaceful spot on a sunny July day and enjoyed the hills and grassland all around.
In the afternoon, I toured the country on the other side of the line of hills that run west of the Silver Springs Road. Many of the landmarks here have names on the current map, but as with earlier works, I re-assigned names in order to arrange the landscape for my story. I was very happy to be back in the land of Black Hat Butte, where I saw, as before, a lone antelope and took it as a good omen. I saw Little Sister and drove on to observe Castle Butte. There I observed and absorbed the landmark, made notes, and took photos, as I had done during other parts of the trip. By the end of my excursion, I had a good set of notes for the various places where the story would take place, and I also had a series of photos that I could review on my tablet when I wanted to revisit a specific scene. So in setting as well as in content, I felt that I had material that was real.
I worked on this novel through the latter half of the summer and on through the fall, and I had my manuscript ready to submit by mid-December of 2016. It came out at a little under 70,000 words, so I was pleased with the length as well. It went through the editing process without difficulty, it was fitted out with a beautiful cover, and it went on to earn some nice reviews. It was published in May of 2018, and I submitted it in contests for works published in that year. At the time of this writing, it has placed in a couple of contests and has a couple to go. Castle Butte has been successful and rewarding enough to encourage me to try my hand again at writing a novel for young adults.
Castle Butte is available at Amazon.