Writing Saltwater Cowboys

Writing Saltwater Cowboys

Posted on April 3 by Kyle in Fiction, Interview
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How did you come up with the idea for this book?

It is no surprise that I would end up writing a mining themed book given my family’s extensive history with the occupation. My father is a retired Chief Surveyor from Newfoundland who has worked all over Canada in mining communities. My grandparents are miners. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are miners and mining engineers. This is the culture I grew up in. My father once told me about a family who were stealing gold from the mine he worked at when I was a teenager. I never forgot it. To this day, no one talks about it. It never made national news. I think it’s a compelling story and a part of Canadian history that I wanted to share. It made sense to situate the story in Alberta and pit the ‘haves’ (Albertans) against the ‘have-nots’ (Newfoundlanders) at a time when relations were tense.


How did you come up with the title?

Twenty years ago my grandfather and I were out for a drive. There was a car on the road ahead with an Alberta license plate and a bumper sticker of the Newfoundland flag. He said, “There’s a Saltwater Cowboy.” I asked him what he meant and he told me that it was a nickname for a Newfoundlander who lives and works in Alberta. I immediately thought that the migrant experience so common to Newfoundlanders would make a great novel entitled Saltwater Cowboys.


What was the creative process like for you?

I started writing this book on the back of small scraps of paper in 1998. I really sat down and churned out a 100,000 word first draft over eight months in 2006. I worked on subsequent drafts with the help of readers who gave me a million valuable suggestions on how to improve the novel. After that I went through the Humber School for Writers on-line program under the mentorship of David Adams Richards. It was a wonderful experience working on the book with such an accomplished writer who really got what I was trying to say and who writes with the same thematic preoccupations about the working classes in the Maritimes that I do.


Which character are you most attached to and why?

Jack McCarthy. He is the male protagonist in Saltwater Cowboys. I am fascinated by the man who thinks he is not manly enough but tries hard to be so. He is a weak man. He is a meek follower who loses his will in the presence of those he loves. I liked the juxtaposition of a hardscrabble dirty miner with a strong inner emotional life filled with self-doubt, a passionate love for his wife and children and a longing for his home in Newfoundland. As a child growing up around miners I thought many of the men were this way.


What is the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader?

The first review I read was by a woman in Seattle. She said that my writing was “…brilliant…visceral and evocative, wholly original…the setting and characters are so palpable…Furlong has the talent to break your heart…” She went on to say that she thought about the book even when she wasn’t reading it and had to remind herself that they were fictional characters. Finally, she compared my work to Russell Banks. I feel like I’ve hit a bulls-eye with this reader. She’s an intelligent woman who thoroughly understood what I was trying to say. I now know with absolute certainty that the cliché is true: if one person likes your book that’s all you need, everything else is icing on the cake.