A Conversation with D. László Conhaim
You’ve published essays and a novel related to Spanish literature. What inspired you to write Comanche Captive?
The novel began as an exercise in reimagining Randolph Scott’s 1960 film Comanche Station—a traditional but very stylish search and rescue film that’s become something of an art house favorite. My book’s principal plot difference, which turns that story on its head, is that the woman’s struggle is to return to her tribal family. John Ford’s cavalry film, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, had a greater impact on the novel as a whole, though. I tried to recreate She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’s special ambiance of the troop at its post and on the march, along with the requisite colorful supporting characters, their camaraderie, and I should mention the complicated but respectful relationship between the hero and the Indians. I just love that stuff.
What makes Comanche Captive special?
Normally, stories about Indian captives are about the search and rescue. Mine is about the attempts of a former captive, rescued against her will, to reunite with her Comanche-born son. I don’t think we’ve read or seen that before.
You hope to appeal to general readers. What makes you think Comanche Captive will?
I think it could. Let’s go back to 1956 and The Searchers. John Ford’s iconic film about a search for Indian captives is a hit. Is it a hit because it’s a western or because it’s a great story with appeal to both sexes? Remember the event that Dances with Wolves was? It appealed to everybody. OK, so Comanche Captive is a book, not a film. So what? What did Dr. Seuss say? “Try it, try it—you might like it.”
What about faithfulness to the facts, to tribal traditions? Did you get any help from the Comanche Nation?
Plenty of help, and it made all the difference. But I took plenty of liberties, too. This is entertainment, after all.
The novel ends with the author’s acknowledgment that it became something of a tribute to western star Randolph Scott. Why should that resonate with today’s reader?
Randolph Scott is an icon worth remembering—or discovering, for that matter. He’s the real deal. But while my intention was to bring back that wholesome hero figure for one more exciting ride, he needed to confront challenges, both internal and external, that we’d expect a modern hero to face. That’s to say nothing of the strong female protagonist and the issues she faces. To tell more would spoil the surprises that might make this book different and—I hope—satisfying to those who normally wouldn’t pick up a western.
What’s next for you? Are you planning a sequel to Comanche Captive?
That’s a real possibility. But first I’m intending to make available digitally my first novel, All Man’s Land, about former slave’s discovery of the lawman who once owned him. I’ve also got a Roman historical in the works.
The broken arrow is a Native American sign of peace.