Local author Rick Gillis revisits Crowsnest Pass in his second novel, “Buckskin Girl and Blackheart.”
But unlike his first book, “The Boy Who Couldn’t Die,” which was directly inspired by his childhood growing up in the Pass, this book comes directly from his imagination.
Gillis returned to Crowsnest Pass artists’ retreat the Gushul House Blairmore last March to get his idea about a woman, Danielle, who inherits the memoirs of an elderly woman’s adventures beginning with growing up in the Crowsnest Pass at the beginning of the 20th century.
“It’s completely different than the last book,” Gillis said, describing it as “‘Buckskin Girl and Blackheart’ follows the extraordinary life of Rebecca Sarah Deering (Buckskin Girl) from her birth in a simple, rough cabin in the north valley woods north of the Pass from her birth in 1907. Her terrible birth left her father an embittered widower and Sarah a confused and lonely child.”
Gillis noted the story, told through Danielle’s reading of the memoir, takes the reader through Buckskin Girl’s life as Danielle learns about the woman who turns out to be her long-lost mother.
Sarah meets a massive black wolf (Blackheart) and forms a mystical bond with him throughout the story. He provides a mystical guiding influence throughout her life.
“It plays with the preconceived idea that people have of wolves and darkness are bad,” Gillis explained, adding writing the book itself was fairly quick, but a lot more work went into editing it and researching the era, so the background was as accurate as possible.
“It was all in my imagination, so I just let loose and wrote it all down in about four months,” Gillis said.
“I did a lot of research into things like whether they actually had school buses in the early 20th century. I also researched the language; some of the language might not fit into that era, but Sarah was writing her memoir in the ’80s so it fits then,” he said, adding even though the story is fictional, ensuring the historical details were accurate was essential to not distract from the story.
“I have to write when I’m inspired to write. I’m not just going to sit in front of a desk and write like professional writers who have to release books every couple of years or so. If something comes to me, I’ll write it down,” he said.
Local artist and filmmaker Blake Evernden designed the cover and Darcy Logan added extra feedback. Vaughan Coupland, who edited his first book, also edited this book. Amanda Berg from the University of Lethbridge also offered extra assistance.
Gillis noted writing the book is the easiest part of the job; now come the difficult part — promotion.
“You’ve got to promote yourself. You’ve got to ask people to buy the book. They are available at three or four locations and I’m working on another. And I’ll be doing a lot of readings and appearances,” he said, adding it has received positive response for the people who have read it.
“One of my friends told me he couldn’t put it down. He read it all in a day and a half,” he said.
Gillis self-published the book with the same company as he published his first one, but ran into a few more snags along the way.
“They sent me a proof of it and it was terrible, so I had to get it fixed,” he said, adding he also learned a little about overcoming some of the logistical challenges of getting the book into his hands
“You can order as many copies as you want from them. Last time I ordered 300 copies and it was too many. This time, I order 50 to 100 at a time,” he said.
He buys the copies from them, and they will reprint as many as he wants. He gets them delivered to Sweetgrass where he picks them up.
Print editions of the book are available a few local places including the Allied Arts Council, Casa and Crowsnest Pass Museum, plus at the numerous book readings Gillis will be doing to promote the book.
The next reading is Friday, June 14 in the Casa meeting room, from 7-9 p.m.
It is also available as an eBook through Amazon and KindleDirect.