The Story Behind the Story of Snake Oil: Following a Passion

It’s time for you to learn what drove SNAKE OIL.

Was my father a volunteer on Wind River Reservation in the 1970s?

NO. While he has always been a student of—what was known at that time as—Indian culture (note: terms like American Indian and Native American were just coming into usage (First Nation and others came along only more recently) and were not favored by Indians until much later, according to both my memory and polls of Native Americans in the 70s and 80s) and he did write a term paper on the Apache—probably inspired by his own heritage, which, while modest, captured his imagination, something he passed on to me—he never got the chance to work at Wind River. HOWEVER, he did work for a few years at Boys Ranch outside of Amarillo, commuting over bad roads through bad weather a few times a month. Our family donated a few horses to Boys Ranch and loved going out to their rodeos to see our former horses in action, as well as to their Christmas programs. I met a pharmacist a few years ago who had a Belgian Malinois (which inspired me to later get a Belgian Malinois) that he had rescued while working on Wind River part time. Obviously, the dog stuck with me, but so did the man’s stints working for the impoverished and crime-stricken people of the reservation. So when it came time to write SNAKE OIL, I wanted a “no good deed goes unpunished” sort of theme, and I set our Patrick Flint up as a volunteer at Wind River, in anticipation of putting him through the ringer there, on the page.

Is Gussie the old International Harvester real?

YES! And so was the story of driving in a blizzard and stopping to thaw a frozen radiator hose—that happened driving on a closed interstate to Casper to pick up my uncle at the airport. The dentist in town, a man named Ray Braten, was one of my dad’s best buddies. Dad loved Ray’s old beat up green Travelall. And he was continually amazed by how prepared Ray was for anything.

Did my parents really buy their dream home and live happily-every-after in Wyoming?

NO. My mom wasn’t a huge fan of living there in the 1970s. However, after many years of spending a few weeks every summer in the Bighorns, my dad finally won: they bought a home there in 2018 just five minutes away from our own Snowheresville, and I think four months or thereabouts a year in the best of weather is just about perfect for my mother.

Is this plot based on real-life?

NO. The characters handed me the plot, as often happens in stories. I put them all together in the first chapter (including the near-delivery of a baby on the side of the road while en route to the Buffalo Hospital, which was not unusual back then), and then let them mingle in my mind for a week or two until it came to me. And, I asked my dad: what poisons were easily available in the 1970s and what could be done about them? We talked through options of different kinds, what treatments were on hand, what treatments were available in what type of medical facilities, and then I branched off into more research until that, combined with the characters, showed me the way.

If you have any particular questions about what is and isn’t real in the book, give me a shout. I love talking about it.

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