Monday, March 26, 2012

The mystery surrounding Etta Place

There she is--Etta Place, the mysterious and beautiful woman who was The Sundance Kid's Lover, the woman who rode and robbed banks with the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, the woman who mysteriously disappeared after the infamous shootout in Mexico that killed Sundance and, so everyone thought for a long time, Butch Cassidy. Here, she graces the cover of the reissue of my 2002 novel, soon to be available as an e-book.
No one knows where she came from, though rumor has it Sundance found her at Fannie Porters's "gentlemen's parlor" in San Antonio. I was free to make up my own version of how she got there, and I did. I also told the story of the inseparable relationship between Sundance, Butch and Etta in her voice--as I chose to interpret it. No one knows what happened to Etta after the shootout. One story is that she disappeared into South America; another that she died in a Denver hospital of appendicitis; but a third has her living and running a respectable boarding house in Fort Worth. Since I'm in Fort Worth and I once knew a man who swore he remembered being introduced to her as a very young boy, that's the story I chose to go with.
The cover to the published version of this book distressed me. It looked like a generic western, with men riding away from a train, while shooting back in that direction. Where, I asked, is Etta? One of the major points about her story and this book is that a woman rode on those train and bank robberies. The reply was that I already had an audience among women and they wanted to draw men to my book. I don't remember that it was a hugely successful strategy. I'm hoping this cover will draw women--and some men--to the novel.
Ever since the 1969 movie about them, there has been an ongoing fascination with those two outlaws. Relatives of each man have surfaced to write their own books, and there has been some solid research along with many books based on rumors.I relied on several sources, inserting fictional scenes of semi-domesticity, high living at the Brown Hotel in Denver, and close escapes One of the problems Butch and Sundance faced in their heyday was imitation--bank robberies that they didn't commit but that were blamed on them anyway. The same has proven to be true in litrature, so take this book for fiction. And read it for fun and a bit of history.
Here's what a couple of critics said about the book:
"Alter is a meticulous researcher but never at the expense of a skillful first-person narrative."—Publishers Weekly. "Judy Alter is one of the finest writers of Western fiction! Her realistic portrayal of historic events touches the imagination and stirs the spirit."—The Literary Times 
But here's the best recommendation: This is the only book I've written that made my book-loving son-in-law laugh out loud, maybe the best compliment I've ever had. Sometimes I'm quite sure he doesn't read the books I give him, but he read this--and laughed.


fresnowfo said...

It was said they were killed in Bolivia, not Mexico...

Judy Alter said...

No one knows for sure. I'd have to check the research now, but I think it was indeed Bolivia.