When a former journalist writes a novel with an unreliable narrator about the editor of a weekly newspaper going gonzo, the subject will come up. How much is based on real life?
Just to set the record straight, in her new novel, “Bury the Lead,” Cassondra Windwalker:
• Has not written about someone she knows,
• Might have been inspired by her five years working as a deputy sheriff at a county jail, and
• Was as surprised as readers might be to discover the dark direction her novel took her.
“When I first conceived of the book I thought I knew what was going to happen,” Windwalker said in an interview last Friday. “Something was going on I hadn’t realized was going on it the plot.”
Windwalker, the latest author to join the lower Kenai Peninsula’s growing cohort of published fiction writers, will celebrate the release of her second book at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Soldotna Public Library. She will do another talk at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Homer Public Library and a signing from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 22 at Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Anchorage. Published this month by Black Spot Books, “Bury the Lead” will be available for sale at her Homer appearance and at the Homer Bookstore.
Joining her at the Homer Public Library event is Betty Epps Arnett, for the release of her memoir, “22 and the Mother of 11,” about working as a house mother at the Jesse Lee Home for Children in Seward right after she graduated from college. Windwalker, 43, moved to Anchor Point in October 2017 with her husband, Thomas Klingensmith, an engineer at KNLS, a radio station with World Christian Broadcasting. Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and most recently living in Fort Collins, Colorado, Windwalker also lived in Claremont, Indiana, where she worked at the Westside Flyer, a weekly newspaper near Indianapolis, Indiana. In Fort Collins she worked as a deputy sheriff at the Larimer County Jail. Windwalker said the most interesting thing she learned about working there “was the nobility of the human spirit in the worst of circumstances.”
In “Bury the Lead,” her fictional, first-person narrator, Jeff, starts blurring the line between truth and lies when his girlfriend, Ada, decides to leave him. The title refers to the journalism phrase, “bury the lede” for putting the main point of an article toward the middle or end of a story. “Lede” is the spelling journalists use for an article’s introduction.
Jeff strays into ethically questionable territory with the idea of having advertising embedded in the stories of his weekly paper in the fictional town of Brisby, Colorado. His placement of two stories on the front page about a homeless man and a series of dog killings gives readers the wrong idea about the homeless man. Things get really weird when Jeff writes a false story about a body found near a trail.
Windwalker said her editor at the Weekly Flyer was not Jeff.
“My editor was fabulous,” she said. “If Jeff came from anywhere, he probably came from the minds of the people I was working with in jail.”
As a child, Windwalker said she knew she wanted to be a writer. In fourth grade, her teacher in a gifted and talented program, Caroline Hamilton, entered one of Windwalker’s poems in a state poetry contest and she won.
“I got to start off my writing career with approval and not rejection,” she said.
Windwalker got a bachelor of arts in letters from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, a classical degree in which students take classes in literature, history, philosophy, and modern and ancient languages.
She has written six novels, publishing the last two. Her first novel, “Parable of Pronouns,” a contemporary work of magical realism published in January by Solstice Publishing, follows the reincarnation of Adam and Eve and Lillith. Like a lot of new writers, Windwalker kept getting rejections for “Bury the Lead.” One editor sent her a personal rejection letter, saying she really liked the novel, but planned to retire and thought Windwalker’s book was “really angry and it wasn’t the book she wanted to go out on,” she said.
In October 2017, Windwalker started to use Twitter under the name @windwalkerwrite.
“I was very reluctant,” she said. “… Since I got on there, I found this supportive writers community.”
Windwalker wrote on Twitter about the “really angry” rejection, asking, “Any large, angry presses out there?” An editor with Black Spot replied, “Maybe not so large or angry, but certainly curious.”
She sent them the novel and Black Spot accepted it. As she wrote “Bury the Lead,” Windwalker said she got into the character’s head by doing things like cutting out newspaper headlines the same way Jeff does. The novel’s titles are all headlines, and horoscopes, crossword puzzle clues and more headlines in the text seem to echo some of her narrator’s thoughts.
“My walls looked like the walls (where) Jeff pasted up random clippings,” she said.
Windwalker even drank Jeff’s favorite drink, gin martinis with cocktail onions — not her favorite.
“People talk about method actors,” she said. “I’m a method writer. I will become who I’m writing. … A writer’s whole job is to become someone they aren’t.”
This summer, Windwalker has been working at the Normal Lowell Gallery near Blackwater Bend. She’s looking forward to spending more time writing after the gallery closes soon. She also writes poetry and has finished a collection, “The Almost Children,” about dealing with grief and loss and the person someone could have become had they not died. Windwalker also is writing a mystery novel she describes as “a little bit of satire wrapped up in a murder.”
For more on her writing, visit her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/cassondrawindwalkerwrite.